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Eco-friendly products may not be so different

cleanHousehold cleaning products have arrived on the green scene.

But for eco-cleaners it takes some green to go green. All-purpose cleaners at six dollars and $12 a pop for laundry detergent means consumers are paying more for products that experts say may not be that different from their Clorox counterparts.

“I just bit the bullet and bought my very first bottle of $12 eco-friendly laundry detergent,” said Sarah Drew, 25, an anthropology major at the University of Georgia.

Like many college students, Drew lives on a tight budget.  She has to balance her eco-conscience with limited finances.  Her $12 bottle of Seventh Generation laundry detergent promises to be non-toxic and biodegradable.  But the Environmental Protection Agency says these terms are vague and unregulated by the government.  In fact non-toxic has no official definition or third party verification.  Biodegradable can be just as unclear.

Mark Chapman, 30, a professor of plant biology at the University of Georgia, said anything organic – that is anything made up of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen – will break down over time.

“Usually ‘biodegradable’ means it will degrade over a much shorter time than, say a regular plastic bottle,” he said.  “So if I bought something made of biodegradable plastic I’d expect it not to be in a landfill for a gazillion years.”

Currently, even if a product and it’s packaging take a gazillion years to break down it can still be labeled biodegradable.

Wary of the chemical quagmire in most cleaning products, Americans are turning to eco-cleaners.  Most household cleaners contain harmful volatile organic compounds (VOC’s) that vaporize into the air and can pollute the soil and water as well as cause serious respiratory problems, according to the EPA.

But Chapman, originally from England, said that there are even more natural alternatives to commercial eco-cleaners.

“The best way to clean windows is scrunched up newspaper and vinegar,” he said.

“You can have it on your fish and chips too – double the fun.”

Vinegar is an earth-friendly and inexpensive household item that can be used for most cleaning tasks; and, as Chapman noted, it is not harmful if swallowed.

With vinegar, baking soda, lemon juice, and some warm water you can tackle just about any household chore:

Distilled white vinegar can clean and deodorize any surface including, refrigerators and microwaves.

A mix of vinegar and baking soda unclogs drains and garbage disposals.

Baking soda adds the benefit of grit for surfaces that need extra scrubbing.

Baking soda also lifts stains out of carpets and many fabrics.

Lemon dissolves soap scum and hard water deposits in the bathroom and eliminates odors; and it great for dishes too.

These three products provide an excellent alternative to expensive commercial cleaners.  Ben Garland, 31, a graduate student at North Carolina State University uses the trio regularly for his cleaning needs.  He and his fiancée, Laura Bentz, make a conscious effort to limit their use of harsh chemicals.

“Basically, we try to cut out any of the conventional cleaning products that have ingredients that you can’t pronounce,” he said. “We’re transitioning to stuff we make on our own.”

Garland said his concerns are for his personal health and for the environment.

“I want to know when I put something down the drain that if it does end up in a river that it’s not going to be very harmful,” he said.

Garland said the biggest disadvantage to their homemade cleaning concoctions is that it may take a little extra elbow grease to remove tough stains; but sometimes the homemade stuff works better than the commercial product.

The couple has been on a mission for nearly two years to live a more sustainable lifestyle- that means cutting back on all the products they consume.  Their mission so far has proved easy on the earth and easy on their wallets.

Garland also made his own laundry detergent from Ivory soap, Borax, and washing soda.

“I didn’t like detergents because I would get itchy from the detergent residue left on my clothes after washing them,” he said “And they are more expensive than making it myself.”

His homemade detergent only costs two cents per load.  By his estimates, over the course of a year he will spend only 75 cents to a dollar on laundry.

Garland and Bentz also stopped using paper towels and have had the same roll of paper towels sitting around for eight months. They replaced them with dishrags and cloth napkins to save money and help ease deforestation.

Recycled paper products are another sustainable option.  According to the National Resources Defense Council, if every household replaced just one roll of regular paper towels with a roll of recycled paper towels, we could save 544,000 trees.

“The point of what we’re doing is ‘getting back to the land’ and looking at what our grandparents did that we are no longer doing as a society,” said Garland’s fiancée, Bentz.

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