With an increasing amount of people becoming more aware of the environmental impact their purchasing habits have, the popularity of eco-products is growing.
“REDUCE, reuse, recycle”. This is one way of expressing, in an easily understandable manner, the things all of us can do if we want to live ecologically responsible lives. However, regardless of how much reducing, reusing and recycling we do, there are certain things that have to be bought.
In the last ten years, there’s been a noticeable growth in sales of eco-products. Food products, especially in the form of organics, are perhaps the most familiar type of eco-product, but a whole host of environmentally friendly alternatives are out there – everything from energy-efficient washing machines and non-toxic paint to recycled toilet paper and clothes made from organic materials. Let’s turn our attention to a couple of lesser-known product ranges where ecological variants exist: cosmetics and cleaning products.
Availability of products
Nowadays, it’s possible to find eco-varieties of most cleaning products and cosmetics: washing-up liquid, laundry detergent, lipstick, soap, shampoo, deodorant, mascara, cotton pads... That’s not to say that all these products are easy to track down, especially for people who do most of their shopping at supermarkets.
Johanna Koskinen, head of marketing at Ruohonjuuri, an eco-shop with stores in Helsinki, Tampere and Turku, adds that there are some products, albeit only a handful, you simply can’t get eco-versions of in Finland:
“Nail polish is problematic because of the methylbenzene fixative used in it, so they can’t be eco-certified. We do sell nail polish produced by Santé and this is more environmentally friendly.”
“Also, permanent hair dyes are a problem,” she continues. “We stock henna-based ones, but the more powerful dyes can’t be eco-certified. Again, we compromise by offering our customers a non-ecologically certified but more environmentally friendly series of permanent hair colour products.”
Although bigger supermarkets often stock ecological cleaning products such as those produced by Ecover, a better range can be found in specialist eco-shops as well as others like Punniste ja säästä.
Some examples of reliable eco-labels:
– Nordic Ecolabel (Joutsenmerkki)
– EKOenergy (Ekoenergia)
– Bra Miljöval – “Good Environmental Choice” (Hyvä ympäristövalinta)
– Aurinkomerkki – “Sun Label” (for organic products)
One of the main advantages of eco-products is the absence of phosphates in laundry and dishwasher detergents as these cause eutrophication (ie. increased plant growth in lakes and seas with a consequent negative effect on animal life due to a lack of available oxygen). The problem is so pressing that the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) is campaigning for a total ban on the sale of detergents containing phosphates in the EU.
“Eutrophication is the number one threat to the Baltic Sea’s biodiversity,” says Sampsa Vilhunen of the WWF.
Vilhunen is quick to point out, though, that the use of phosphorus has other serious drawbacks.
“Phosphorus is crucial nutrient in food production and non-renewable which means we will run out of it in the long run. Some estimate this will happen even before we run out of oil. Long before this the price will get enormously high and that will influence the price of the food.”
Another example of a dangerous substance is chlorine, found in cleaning products for dishwashers. Chlorine in bleaching agents can form environmentally harmful, slow degrading organochlorine compounds.
As ecological cleaning products don’t contain phosphates or chlorine, they avoid contributing to these problems.
Non-ecological cosmetics and cleaning products also have negative side effects for humans. For Sofi Koivula, a lawyer from Helsinki, who has been using only ecological cosmetics and cleaning products for the past nine months, this was an important part of the reason she took the decision she did.
“I have read a lot about the different chemicals that most cosmetics contain. Chemicals surround us everywhere and I think it’s impossible to say what the ‘cocktail effect’ will be.”
“Now they are also recommending pregnant women to avoid wearing makeup,” she continues. “That makes me think that they can’t be very healthy for non-pregnant people either.”
The Recycling Factory will hold an
Sat 7 & Sun 8 May
Finland’s Consumer Agency encourage shoppers to favour independent environmental labels, since these show that the product’s ecological footprint is smaller than that of a non-ecological equivalent, its environmental impact has been assessed by an impartial party and it has fulfilled specific functionality and sustainability criteria. A product’s ecological footprint reflects such things as the product’s source material, the use of renewable energy sources in the manufacturing of that product, and the product’s type and quantity of packaging.
The last item on this list is an important one for Tero Tähtinen, an author and translator from Tampere. Alluding to the fact that eco-shops allow their customers to refill previously purchased containers, Tähtinen says, “The main reason I buy these products is maybe because I don’t have to keep on buying new bottles of washing-up liquid etc.”
Do they work, are they expensive?
Few people want to harm the natural environment, but still sales of eco-products remain relatively small. Ignorance of the environmental impact of one’s consumption habits as well as the lack of specialist eco-products available in supermarkets help to explain why someone continues to buy non-ecological products. However, these products’ expensiveness, both perceived and real, is also a major obstacle to growth in the eco-product market.
Although the Consumer Agency notes that products carrying an eco-label aren’t usually any more expensive than other products, the fact that a vast amount of products can only be found in small, independent eco-shops means that certain eco-products tend to be more expensive.
“I really couldn’t say for sure if they’re more expensive, but I don’t really care if they are because they are necessities,” Tähtinen thinks. “I expect they are more expensive, though, but I’m willing to pay that bit extra for them,” he reasons.
Koivula adds that compared with luxury brands, eco-products are definitely cheaper.
As for the issue of quality, the Consumer Agency says that, “Tests carried out on eco-certified cleaning products have shown them to be at least as good as other cleaning products.” Whether ecologically produced cosmetics work is a more subjective question.
“I actually mostly think they work better,” says Koivula. “The only exception is hair products. It has been really hard to find a shampoo and conditioner in Finland I like as much as other hair products.”
Allan Bain, Aino Bain