Surfers Call On Beachgoers To Get Behind Green Cleaning Products To Crack Down On Harmful Chemicals
Surfers Against Sewage (SAS) campaigners were at Gyllngvase beach in Falmouth today to launch a campaign to get behind clean, green household cleaning products and toiletries. Taking a bath, cleaning the toilet and washing the dishes were all part of the action….but instead of the household, were done in the sea to highlight how harmful chemicals flushed down sinks and toilets end up directly threatening the marine environment.
With the official bathing season getting underway over last Bank Holiday weekend, clean water campaigners we were urging beachgoers to think twice about what they pour down their sinks and flush down their toilets.
Many everyday household cleaning products and toiletries contain potentially harmful synthetic chemicals. Whilst they inevitably ‘clean’, many products containing such chemicals unfortunately leave a toxic mark on the water environment as modern sewage treatment systems fail to tackle those chemicals as part of the treatment process. Chemicals of particular concern are those which are toxic to one or more organisms; those that have a tendency to bio-accumulate as a consequence of their persistence; those that are capable of leaching out of, or being lost from, consumer products during normal use; and those that are reported to be contaminants in the human body over a range of concentrations.
Chemicals with endocrine disrupting properties (hormone imbalancing) are of particular concern for humans and the water environment and these chemicals currently found in household products are having a big impact on the water environment.
A new report ‘Barriers To Green Buying: Household Chemicals’, undertaken by the University of Plymouth for SAS’s educational trust The Clean Water Initiative and with funding from The Co-operative Bank, has delved deeper into the attitudes of the UK public to chemicals in household products and measured awareness of their environmental impacts. Interviews (with retailers, manufacturers and other stakeholders), national opinion polls and consumer focus groups were used to explore the factors that influence the purchasing of such items. In particular the study explored the barriers to the purchase of low impact household products.
The National Opinion Poll found:
A large proportion of respondents never consider the environmental impacts of cleaning products and even fewer consider the impacts of toiletries. 50% of the 18-24 category never consider the environmental impacts of cleaning products compared with 35.7% of the older age category (55-64).
When asked if they perceived sewage treatment to be fully effective in removing all harmful chemicals 22% of respondents indicated that none of the harmful chemicals were removed during sewage treatment while 72% indicated that although some chemicals may be removed, other harmful chemicals are released into rivers and seas.
When asked about their attitudes towards disposal of household products with wastewater over 60% of respondents indicated that they did not consider the fate of such waste after it had entered the drainage system.
The buying behaviour and the importance of factors in determining buying were investigated and the survey indicated that 37% of respondents purchase products labelled as environmentally friendly, with more respondents in the older age groups indicating they buy low impact products whenever possible compared to the younger respondents.
The purchasing decision was explored through a series of questions, which asked respondents to indicate the most important factors, which determined the choice of product. The results indicated that cost and performance were overwhelmingly the two most important factors accounting for approximately 70% of respondents’ first mention for both cleaning products and toiletries. The brand name was the third most important factor and the environmental impact the fourth most important factor. Within the sample, cost was the most important factor cited by the 18-24 age category whereas environmental impact was most important to the 55-64 group. Performance was perceived as the most important factor to all other age categories.
The main barriers to buying low impact products were perceived by respondents to be firstly; the cost of the product, secondly; poor product information and thirdly; product performance.
The quality of product information was clearly a major factor in the decision making process. The usefulness of information was investigated and a large proportion of respondents indicated that they never read product labels, with the 18-24 age group reading labels less than any other age group, whilst the 55-64 reading the most.
There was however a lot of confusion over product information and decision-making, notably when it came to product ingredients.
SAS believe there is an overwhelming attitude of ‘out-of-site-out-of-mind’ regarding the environmental consequences as few respondents from this report think about what they discharge to their drains. Of pressing concern is that young people demonstrated the least awareness of these issues suggesting a possible failure of the education system to inculcate environmental values that would create consumers who are aware of personal behaviour on the environment.
At present it is too difficult to find low impact products, as they do not appear to be widely distributed and stocked by retail outlets. There are perceptions of inferior performance with low impact products but they are partly a legacy of the demonstrably inferior products first launched onto the market decades ago.
Richard Hardy, SAS Campaigns Director says: “If your using the beach this summer you should be aware that harmful chemicals used to clean in the household are having a nasty effect on the water environment. They’re tough on stains but tough on the environment too! Once their flushed, many bypass the sewage treatment system only to accumulate in rivers, lakes and seas. SAS urge consumers to start switching to the cleaner, greener alternatives. If you’re using a washing detergent don’t think brand loyalty put the environment first and buy a low impact alternative”?