Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of November 15, 2004
Convenience costs you - - again and again
Writers experiment uncovers how you can really clean up
By SUZANNE ELSTON
I decided to do a bit of an experiment. I had a fundamental understanding that there was a better, chemical-free way to clean your home without destroying the environment. What I didn't know was how less expensive these safe cleaners were and how little actual waste they generated.
I started out with a basic goal. Compare what I consider first generation basic cleaners with second and third generation commercial chemical products. The cleaning tasks that I focused on were the bathroom, kitchen and general dusting.
Back to basics
My first generation cleaning team consisted of white vinegar (a natural deodorizer and sanitizer), baking soda (again, a great deodorizer and great for areas where you need a mild abrasive), olive oil for dusting (you could also use lemon oil or any basic vegetable oil), clean rags (from my son's discarded T-shirt collection) and newspapers (for polishing windows and mirrors). The total cost of the products was about $5.
After recycling the baking soda box, vinegar and oil bottles and used newspapers, the net amount of garbage this team produced was two bottle lids. The T-shirts can be re-used again and again.
My second-generation team consisted of window cleaner and paper towels, Fantastik spray cleaner and J-cloths, Ajax cleanser for the toilet and counter stains and Pledge spray furniture polish. Net cost: about $15.
After recycling the empty bottles and spray can and placing the used paper towels in my compost bin, the net amount of garbage consisted of used J-cloths; the sprayer lids from window and counter cleaners and an empty Ajax container.
The third generation of cleaners that I tested consisted of single-use products that are embedded with cleaners of some kind, used once and then discarded. This includes Windex window wipes, Fantastik kitchen and bathroom wipes, Fantastik's new disposal toilet brush and Pledge furniture polishing clothes. Total cost of these products: about $25. Total contribution to the waste stream: a whole lot.
In fact, it would be easier to note the only thing that could be recycled or recovered - the box that the disposable toilet brushes came in.
It's also important to note that although many of the second and third generation products had similar prices (that is, $3.49 for a can of polish vs. $3.99 for a bag of 18 polishing cloths), the actually number of applications of the two products varied greatly.
While a spray can would likely last several months, the single use cloths would be gone in a few weeks, if that long.
In terms of cost, waste and product comparisons, my little experiment didn't produce any surprising results. The real revelation came after I compared how long it took to use each type of cleaning product.
Each subsequent generation of cleaning products has been marketed to consumers as a way to make their lives easier, more efficient.
The companies that produce these products have banked on the fact that some people are willing to pay more to save a little time.
But they don't. It takes just as much time to clean a window with a disposable Windex cloth as is does to use a spray bottle of Windex and a paper towel, or vinegar and newspaper.
In terms of final results, the disposable cloths I tried left greasy streaks, the other two methods came out just about even in the cleaning department.
Ditto for the various products that I used to clean the toilet bowl.
No time saved.
Little or no improvement in cleaning results, lots of money wasted and lots of garbage produced (to say nothing of the toxic chemicals that some commercial products contain).
It's the waste issue that's particularly troubling. As fast as municipalities can figure out ways to recycle one generation of trash, companies find newer non-recyclable ways to produce it.
A good example of this Ontario's Waste Division Act. This bill requires companies who produce recyclable waste to pay half the net cost of recovering those materials.
What nobody seems to be noticing is that these same companies have created a billion dollar disposable product industry that doesn't have to pay because the garbage can't be recycled.
That role falls to the consumer who not only pays inflated prices for these so-called convenience items, but also ends up paying for their disposable.
For more inexpensive, environmentally-friendly cleaning tips, visit www.cyberworking.com/vinegar/index.html. A Better Future (www.abetterfuture.org) is a new website designed to promote a more healthy, humane and environmentally sustainable world. Visit the website and calculate your ecological footprint, try out the environmental impact calculator or take the nature challenge.
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