Are Your Household Cleaning Products Actually Harmful? Interview of Seventh Generation's Martin Wolf
Updated: Jun 29
Alissa Stevens: In this episode I am so beyond pleased to welcome the first get real guests Martin Wolf of Seventh Generation we're going to talk about what goes down when we spray toxic formulas at home and when those formulas get out in nature. We’ll talk about cleaning products on a molecular level all the way to a Global Systems level the potential negative impacts of covid-19 sanitation. The future of Plastics in CPG and how we as humans are ecosystems. So first a bit about our guest Martin is officially the director of product sustainability and authenticity for Seventh Generation but I prefer to call him science man. He's one of the nation's top Authorities on green chemistry. For over 40 years he has traversed the scientific wilderness to discover chemicals that both cause harm and reduce harm. He was instrumental in eliminating phosphates from America's dishwasher detergents in 2010 and was honored with the EPA's environmental Merit award. In 21 years with Seventh Generation he's worked with Scientists to create molecular magic setting standards to maximize the environmental and human health benefits of Seventh Generation products. Hi Martin. Welcome.
Martin Wolf: Hi Alissa. And thank you for that exaggerated introduction.
AS: My pleasure I'm so excited that you're here today and I'm really excited to nerd out together because I know that we could both talk about this stuff all day everyday.
MW: Nerd is what I do best.
AS: Okay so let's just jump right in first I wanted to touch on our knowledge base of consumer cleaning products I think that we as consumers have an idea of what goes into cleaning products or perhaps what's available on the market and how quote safe or quote clean products are but as you and I have talked a bit about there's a lot more than meets the eye and I'd love to give our listeners a glimpse into that so first can you tell us what makes cleaning products do the cleaning? In other words what goes into making particular Home Products?
MW: The exact ingredients will vary depending on the type of cleaning you're doing and the type of soil or stain you're trying to remove but the basic cleaning chemical is called a surfactant which stands for surface active agent the surfactant is a chemical that has part that looks a little bit like an oil or grease and a the part that looks a little bit like water so what happens is when there's a grease soil on your clothing the greasy part of the surfactant attaches to it and then the water like part of surfactant goes into the water and voila the stain is the stain is lifted from your clothing. That’s great for greasy stains so when your hamburger drips on your blouse or my hamburger is always tripping on my shirt. If you’re vegetarian, your ranch dressing or whatever it is.
AS: Right, your Beyond Burger or Impossible Burger or whatever it is.
MW: Exactly, the surfactant works in the same way. But if you're enjoying a fruit salad and the strawberry juice and blueberry juice drips on your blouse the surfactant isn't going to work, you need something that can actually decolorize the stain. So we use things called bleaches, oxidizers. Some companies like Seventh generation focus on oxygen based bleaches like hydrogen peroxide some companies use chlorine type bleaches like sodium hypochlorite or household. And then there are other stains like grass, some wine stains, and others.
AS: Yeah, I have wine stains. Those are my stains.
MW: If you have children you get lots of grass and occasionally blood on your clothing. And those require yet another type of cleaning agent called enzymes. Enzymes are chemicals that you find in all living creatures from bacteria to plants to people and some of them will break up types of chemicals called proteins and protease and they're great for removing blood stains which blood is of course a protein called hemoglobin. This protease will destroy them. When you get some spaghetti on your clothing you have starch and there’s an enzyme called amylase that will get rid of the starch so these enzymes tackle some of the big problems that neither the surfactant nor the bleaches can attack. Then, one more, important ingredient. One is called builder, so if people have hard water hardness can interfere with the surfactant because the magnesium and calcium ions that are in the hard water attach to the surfactant and deactivate it so the builder attaches to the magnesium in the calcium before they can attach to the surfactant and that makes these cleaners a lot more effective. And the last very important ingredient is water. Water makes everything come together and work. It’s an excellent solvent for many many things. And as you know it's one of the most wonderful and refreshing substances around. So that in a nutshell is how you build a cleaning product and you vary the ratios depending on whether you’re cleaning fabrics or cleaning the surface of your house kitchen counter or cleaning your skin with soap, or a hand cleaner.
AS: What I think is really interesting is how you know the Save The Best For Last if you're saying water helps everything come together we're going to talk more about this in a second in terms of natural vs. unnatural things but just like with so many things the simplest most natural is often the best solution or what has it all come together so I love that. Okay so let's get real cleaning products are not always clean so what would surprise or shock us about how home products are made or what most quote normal products contain
MW: So I think the thing that surprises people the most is that most conventional cleaning products are actually made from petroleum. In the good old days and we're speaking more than a hundred years ago soaps were made from animal fats in fact the very first recorded soaps which were made about 5000 BC were discovered accidentally when animal fats from cooking over fire mixed with the ashes below the fire and it created a waxy pasty substance which we would now call soap. When supply Chains got disrupted by events like World War I and World War II, chemists got to work to find alternatives to the oils that were being used like palm oil and coconut oil and so they turn to petroleum. They went from vegetable oils to fossil oils. They learned how to mimic the structures that were used for literally thousands of years and make synthetic materials and if you ever going to a grocery store you know that a vegetable oil can be relatively expensive when compared to a petroleum oil, well it’s not an oil, but it’s a petroleum distillate gasoline. Per gallon vegetable oil’s a lot more expensive so companies turned increasingly to making these synthetic oil for cleaning.
AS: I'd love to know how the safety of products is measured because I would imagine that just like our food system there are things that companies are allowed to put in there that may not be so good for us.
MW: Correct. There are two types of toxicity that one needs to consider. One is called acute toxicity and as the name suggests this is harm that happens immediately so if you swallow an acute toxic you suffer the ill-effects very rapidly and it's not necessarily death but the typical measure is what they call the ld50 or the lethal dose in 50% of usually animals are tested. And the ld50 of most products is such that you would actually have to ingest quite a lot to suffer a harmful effect so most companies do a very good job with the acute toxicity and just like aspirin or some other medicine taken in the right amounts it actually can do you some good but if you take too much can cause harm. There are other acute effects like skin irritation or even skin corrosivity some strong substances can actually seriously damage the skin typically those products have a warning on them that says danger do not allow contact with skin or do not swallow. If people look carefully at their household bleach is actually has the word Danger on it whereas most other cleaners say something like warning or caution do not swallow.
AS: Well, hopefully people wouldn't think to drink bleach.
MW: One would hope, but unfortunately there are people, young creatures or should I say children that cannot read. Most people are informed enough and conscientious enough to keep things like bleach Out Of the Reach of children but unfortunately every once in a while an accident does happen.
AS: What are the things though that we might use for say cleaning our dishes or washing our laundry are there things that companies put in there that have no place being in there really but they put maybe just enough of the right dose to where it's legal or you know really where they're pushing the envelope things that just are hazardous that shouldn't be there?
MW: So now we’re getting into the second type of toxicity, which we call chronic toxicity so there is some substances that when you're exposed to them don't have any immediate visible impact but if you’re exposed again and again again over time there can be a harmful effect such as cancer or such as a developmental disorder or reproductive failure so these substances are allowed in many products including cosmetic products and cleaning products and companies are very good about doing an assessment where they think the amount in the products they are selling will not lead to this chronic harm. The toxicologists who work for the companies that make these materials and companies that use these materials are diligent about doing these calculations the difficulty is people don't use just one product in their home. Most women use about 15 products a day each product has maybe ten or a dozen substance in it, so now you're into hundreds of chemicals and in addition there are chemicals in the environment so you're exposed to these materials at higher levels than from the one product. Secondly, people often use more than the recommended amount because if a little is good a little more is better so following directions which is assumed when doing the studies is not necessarily the case. Then thirdly, very few Studies have been done looking at the interactions of these chemicals. How do two of these substances which may cause cancer or may cause developmental disorders interact with each other? Do they make things better or worse or is it just the sum of the parts, we just don’t know. So because of these unknown effects some companies, and I’ll point to Seventh Generation as one, simply don't use those chemicals don't use known carcinogens or known reproductive toxicants in our products. But as I said, other companies very diligently do the calculations to make sure they're doing they're using only an amount that is unlikely to cause harm. But, calculations are not necessarily comprehensive and holistic.
AS: Comes with a bunch of disclaimers there and there's so many factors. Aright well so that's part two and then part three is what happens to these quote normal or quote clean products that might be clean your house but what happens when they go out into the environment? Cuz I'm thinking things that biodegrade or don't.
MW: That's a really good question and I'm going to begin by asking you a question which you may refuse to answer.
MW: How old are you?
MW: Can you name one substance that you're made from?
MW: How old is that water?
AS: Way older than I am.
MW: so when you say you're 28 years old what you're really saying is the Assembly of molecules in your body is 28 years old but the chemicals themselves were created somewhere between 7 and 11 billion years ago so you're not 28.
AS: age is just a number
MW: But if you’re tired some mornings when you get up there may be a reason you haven’t thought of for that. Or if someone says you’re old as dirt.
AS: this is such an interesting way to think about it though so what you're saying is that while we have the physical makeup of ourselves that everything that we consume and everything that we are made of is is not just a part of ourselves it's part of a larger system of water that has existed for billions of years.
MW: Exactly and nature has this wonderful way of using something so that it supports the generation of life in some way so the early bacteria, he early fish the early reptiles the dinosaurs. You know the water in you might have been in a Tyrannosaurus Rex at one time.
AS: So I just watched Jurassic Park for the first time the original one which is hilarious because I grew up my family is very into film so I don't know how that happened but yeah I've been in the dinosaur mind this week so it's perfect
MW: Nature uses Cycles she takes a molecule she made degrade it but then she uses all the components over again. When we make something we need to think in the same way you want to use it as a cleaning agent it goes down the drain and we want it to degrade so that degraded particles can be taken up by bacteria by plants by other forms of life and used again and then if it's taken up by a plant you can Harvest those plant oils and make a surfactant that goes down the drain and biodegrades and gets taken up by a plant and the process repeats. If things don’t biodegrade then they start to build up in the environment there are lots of examples of that starting with certain pesticides like DDT, a type of chemical called PCBS, some flame retardants very recently we've read about something called PFAs or perfluoroalkyl substances all of these things don't biodegrade what happens is they get absorbed into living creatures including ourselves and they build up in our adipose tissue and become Higher and Higher and Higher in levels and can cause adverse effects.
AS: That doesn’t sound good
MW: It isn’t. We really want everything to biodegrade. If I can jump to one more aspect of biodegradation. I live in Burlington Vermont on the shores of a beautiful lake called Lake Champlain many people live in cities where rivers flow or live in other Lakes Chicago near Lake Michigan and we get our drinking water from these bodies of water. I drink Burlington water as old as it is billions of years. Anything I put down the drain also goes into Lake Champlain, or if you live in Chicago goes into lake Michigan if if you live on the Mississippi River goes back into the Mississippi river. And if it doesn't biodegrade the next time you open your faucet to take a glass of water you're going to be drinking what you put down the drain. So you definitely don’t want to put anything toxic down the drain. Anything that doesn’t biodegrade. And that’s a connection that people often fail to make.
AS: It’s almost like you know we the systems are set up the way they are and they have been for generations and it's almost like they're set up as if there is a separation between all this you know like they're they're isolated issues but they're really not at all so if anyone were to turn a blind eye or to even think you know which is what I often bring up which is how does what I do in my kitchen or in my house or how does what I do on a daily basis really impact things. this is why the name Seventh Generation. It's really all tied together and it's not just for the Seven Generations after us but it's for the rest of our lives. Whatever we put out there is coming back to us. Not even in a spiritual sense or you know anything like that quite literally on quite literally it's it's what's happening.
MW: that's exactly right. And one of the things that modern society tends to do is divorce us from is seeing what's happening Upstream or Downstream from our from our lives so electricity comes to us at our electrical outlet but we don't see the coal plants or hopefully the solar cells that are generating the electricity at that point water comes to us through processes of filtration storage and pumping that again we don't see we just know that we can turn on the tap and reliably get water here in well developed countries this is not always the case in other places same with the fuel we use, we just have them delivered to us either by pipeline or delivery truck but we never think about where it comes before that and often the process are very dirty very contaminating very polluting but because we don't see it we don't think about it and likewise with water going down our train and even when we go to the grocery store we don't necessarily know the history of the products were buying it's just a container of milk somewhere somehow it was produced in we have this vague notion that there was a cow involved at some point. But there were a lot of other steps.
AS: I think that’s a great point. I am about challenging listeners to always think two or three steps bigger think two or three steps ahead of what is right in front of you so if you're in the grocery store and you see a container of milk if we’re talking about greenwashing you know it might be that container of milk that looks super eco-friendly and says or cleaning products for that matter says you know this is a quote green cleaning or eco cleaning or whatever it might be and it might even look very clean and natural and you just don't know so that's why I'm think this conversation is so important is you’re really expanding our knowledge base to see what are the things to look for.
MW: You do a really good job of pointing out that we have to think beyond just acquiring the product and using it because there are impacts to the environment before we buy something and we need to consider those there are impacts when we use a product, we talked about cleaning products and the potential harm to us from the ingredients but when those ingredients are made there are impacts when you use a detergent specifically a laundry detergent or a automatic dishwasher detergent you're using hot water and how that water is heated it makes a huge difference, same things with a shampoo or cleanser. If you don’t like to take cold showers, you’re heating the water and depending on the nature of the fuel used to heat that water you could be having a very adverse effect on the environment and some people say well we should all do our laundry in cold water and what I say is no there's a responsibility on companies and the government to make sure that the energy that comes to us is clean energy so that we can have the hot water to take showers, wash our laundry or do something else without harming the environment. So while consumers have to be mindful at this point they also have to really advocate for Change and try to get cleaner better energy to live their lives.
AS: so I think as a consumer my mind goes to okay so knowing all these things and knowing that there's policy and government that those are all things that you could argue are out of our control at least on a day-to-day basis right so that's why it's also important for companies to do a lot of the hard work for consumers and then there's the behavior part of consumers to have that mindfulness piece on a day-to-day of how they're consuming and what they're consuming so I would love to hear about how you used your Genie Magic or science man Magic on molecules and made them more sustainable so tell me about some of the products and how they're bio-based and how they are biodegradable.
MW: One of things that’ Ive done is conceptualized some of these things and then really chemists implemented them and made things that work well. Some of the frameworks that we create and use at Seventh Generation to make more sustainable products are one to recognize that things should be bio-based because bio-based materials are renewable materials The Petroleum in the ground is not renewable so we begin with a renewable material and that has to be modified just like the original soaps I described earlier were modified to make the soap. Surfactants are much more durable in the presence of hard water than the original soaps so we have chemists at wonderful companies that make chemical products that take plant oils and modify them sometimes with petroleum sometimes with other plant oils to create the surfactant. Seventh Generation works with those companies to design the surfactants and then we put them in our products so that we knows that we’re using a bio based material most Seventh Generation products are more than 90% bio-based and a lot of the so-called natural companies also have very high bio-based content there is a program from the US Department of Agriculture called bio-preferred and if you look at many cleaning products it will have a bio-preferred label and it will say 95% or 97% bio-based occasionally you’ll see a lower number on a competitive product, but most frequently you don’t see it at all because most conventional products are more like 90% petroleum rather than 90% bio-based.
AS: That just blows my mind. So it was bio-preferred?
MW: That’s correct.
AS: something to look out for.
MW: its yellow and green logo and hopefully prominently displayed on packages. In any event, that’s the first half of the equation. The second half of the equation is to make sure it biodegrades and because we're starting with plant oils that have been around bacteria for Millennia. Bacteria Pretty much know how to degrade these materials.
AS: They’re smart cookies those bacterias.
MW: They certainly are. So we know our materials are bio-based and we test them to make sure they're still biodegradable even after they've been modified and it's only when we've completed at cycle that will actually allow that we have a workable system in place. Then there are other materials such as what I called Builders we use a material called citric acid which is a fermentation product typically made from cornstarch enzymes come directly from bacteria again they're grown in a fermenter and then harvested to get their enzymes we use an oxygen bleach the term biodegradable does not apply to hydrogen peroxide because it doesn't have any carbon to biodegrade. Biodegradation only applies to things that contain carbon, everything else is considered a mineral and just a part of nature around us so that's not entirely true but it’s a good first approximation.
AS: okay so what you’re saying is you're Reinventing the wheel and not Reinventing the wheel at the same time?
MW: Yes, we’re mimicking Nature by using her Cycles, we’re making sure that we are working in harmony with nature rather than doing something that's apart from nature, a molecule that won’t biodegrade you can think of as being away from or apart from nature.
AS: that's so funny it's like nature gives us all the answers and we make it so hard
MW: We do because we try to separate ourselves from nature, when you think about our office buildings with no openable windows or how we totally try to make our homes totally isolated and at some point we'll talk about disinfection but we have this at times fear of nature rather than seeing ourselves as being part of nature .
AS: yeah it's like there really isn't that much to do just do what’s been done for billions of years
MW: Well we have to undo what’s been done in the last 50 or 60 years because there’s been a lot of harm
AS: Fair enough, well you brought up sanitation that's a good segue to the next section so I'd love to hear what are some interesting cases you're seeing with consumer packaged Goods Trends during covid-19 and maybe it’s not so much consumer packaged Goods themselves but human behavior so one thing we've talked about is about disinfectant and about fragrances things like that so what are some of the interesting is the the word I'm going to use interesting cases that we’re seeing
MW: There are a couple of interesting human behaviors we’re observing. the first is a tendency to hoard in a time of crisis. We manufacture toilet paper as well as cleaning products and disinfecting products and we're having a tremendously hard time keeping up with demand and there's been no shortage of recycled materials for making our recycled paper toilet tissue but the demand has increased so much that our capacity to produce it and ship it and distribute it is being outpaced and a lot of companies in what’s called the consumer packaged Goods world are facing that
AS: More Clorox! just kidding!
MW: Well they’re facing that demand also.
AS: not going to say anything more about that but so you're you're saying disinfection and the impacts of that
MW: The second thing we’re seeing is that people have this justifiable fear of something they can't see which is the coronavirus and so they are disinfecting surfaces frequently and doing it even when certain surfaces don't need to be disinfected. There have been pictures of trucks driving through cities spraying disinfectants these disinfectants were never designed to be used in that way so we get back to the issue we discussed earlier about toxicity disinfectants are registered with the EPA and the EPA has very strict requirements around how these materials are to be used that are published on the product on the product label with instructions that very clearly say you must follow these instructions exactly, no one's reading those instructions and following them exactly they're just spraying it everywhere which is potentially harmful So people have to read the label and use those products correctly that’s the first level of safety. The second level of safety is one that has been emerging in the past decade and it's a recognition that we did not evolve develop and grow in isolation although we like to think of ourselves as beings and individual and rugged individuals at that, in fact we are ecosystems there are about 1-3 trillion cells in our body but we have somewhere between 6 and 15 trillion passengers riding with us microorganisms that digest our food, create nutrients that our body can't create fight pathogens that enter our body so these microbes are our friends they’re on surfaces in our house and they have the same role they actually help defend against certain pathogens that come into our our house and when we broadly disinfect we're killing the good guys long with bad guys what we need to learn to do is targeted disinfection using these very strong disinfectant products when appropriate and where appropriate so for example when you're home you're much better off just washing your hands with soap and water than using a hand sanitizer because the soap and water removes roughly 80% of the microbes but leaves a little bit behind so that the micro biome can restore itself . Now if you have someone who is immunocompromised or has a suppressed immune system then you should disinfect for their assured well being but otherwise just wash with soap and water similarly people will disinfect every surface in the house. One that has almost no benefit in rooms for example the bathroom because the bacteria are so plentiful and replenished so quickly that you're fighting a battle that you are bound to lose. I’m not suggesting that you don't clean your bathroom and wash it and maintain the hygiene but you don't need to constantly disinfect it same with kitchen counters if you've just put raw chicken on your kitchen counter and want to be clean because you’re concerned about salmonella okay disinfect but every other time you wash your kitchen counter just use a mild soap and water and that will help keep the pathogen level down and allow the normal biome to return and serve its useful function so that's the other Behavior
AS: you hit something right in the beginning of this section which is people are afraid of what they can't see and I've talked about this before where that's one of the biggest challenges with sustainability is that the things that people say are going to happen or that are happening just maybe in other parts of the world are not visible to the naked eye so they may not necessarily occur as something that is that urgent or that is harmful and so I love breaking it down and sharing these practices that are better for us that just because you can't see it doesn't mean there isn't a good way to go about it or a bad way to go about out it for that matter so how about packaging and this Segways into plastic so I've talked about Plastics a bit in a previous episode and I know that Seventh Generation is unique for its sustainable packaging because it has something called post-consumer recycled packaging so with any product it's not just the cleanliness or the healthiness of the product itself but what it actually comes in so let's talk about the future of class text with consumer packaged goods and I'll just say that post-consumer recycled for listeners that's paper and plastic those milk jugs and newspapers and cardboard boxes that you put out on recycling day have been used and recycled and repurposed and I do know that there is a 2020 goal to have 7th generation packaging Sourced from a hundred percent PCR or bio-based materials which is awesome so why is PCR better in the Plastics world?
MW: So going back To Nature and to the water that was created seven and a half to 11 billion years ago we have to learn from nature to use a material and then use it over again that's the only way to create true sustainability and with Plastics because nature typically cannot degrade them we have to create Technical Systems so that after we've made a plastic we can collect them and then use them over again and that is Seventh Generation’s objective. we are roughly 87% of the way there we have a few packages that are not yet made from recycled materials but we're working on it. the other thing that we are doing is for 2025 the next 5-year time frame we want to make all of our materials out of post-consumer recycled material and we want to make sure they're actually recycled because right now the average in the US for things like laundry bottles is about 30% recycling. So, making our products from PCR and making them recyclable is not enough. We have to make sure that your listeners are recycling and that the infrastructure exists for them to recycle
AS: And we’ll talk a bit at the end when we offer some actions for listeners about ways to recycle better cuz everyone could recycle better and so with PCR it's better because it eliminates virgin plastic meaning new plastic and a lot of people advocate for a total move away from Plastics but you don't why is that how was you transform or what desires do you have for the Plastics World instead of a total move away?
MW: First, I’ll explain why I don't want to move totally away the term plastic refers to a class of materials that are easily shaped at relatively low temperatures you can apply pressure to them, they assume a shape and hold that shape which is a very desirable property. There are other classes of materials like metals and glass and you could say well we should make things just out of metals or just out of glass now I will point out that mercury is a metal and it’s very toxic, lead is a metal but it's very toxic cadmium metal and it’s very toxic so that talking about banning a class of material is the wrong way to look at it you want to not use those particular members of the class that are highly toxic and focus on using the others, so shifting back to Plastics there's some plastics that are relatively low in toxicity like polyester like polypropylene like polyesters and we should focus on using those they are very easy to recycle and to your point when you recycle them they use much less energy they require new petroleum to make the recycled material, so if you have material that’s low in toxicity and collected and easy to recycle then you should use it that's what I’ll call a good plastic plastic, then there are the bad plastics, the leads and the Mercury of plastics, polyvinyl chloride is typically the plastic PVC but it also contains a lot of chemicals called phthalates and phthalates are what we call endocrine disruptors they are associated with obesity early puberty in women and other potentially carcinogenic and they have chronic toxicities, getting back to that measure and that is a plastic that is difficult to recycle because when you do the harmful chemicals in it contaminate other plastic materials so we want to get away from those bad Plastics and focus on the good plastics. the other thing I would say it's our system of recycling is very poorly designed. As a chemist I use a term called entropy. Entropy is the amount of disorder in the world or in the universe. If you have children you know all about entropy. The toys never end up back on the shelves very neatly put away, they always end up in a rather messy state. Things like to get mixed together and then hard to take apart hard to create order. What does our recycling system do? Begins by mixing everything together, so called single-stream recycling. So, the first thing you have to do is separate everything. The other thing we do that is really difficult is if you’ve ever been to a material recycling facility they have been standing on ladders over conveyor belt pulling off bottles and throwing them in different places depending what they’re made from. We do a really poor job making their job easy. We use these little symbols that are hard to see when you’re standing at home looking at them. And standing on a ladder next to a conveyor belt has almost no time at all to figure out what plastic something is made from. And that can be automated but we don’t necessarily make easy ways to automate the process, we don’t make the codes machine-readable and if we did those things we could actually have a much more effective recycling system.
AS: And actually create more value out of that uses plastic already right?
MW: Exactly, because when you have a mixed plastic stream as we have learned, countries that used to take them don't want to anymore because they don’t have enough value. If we didn’t mix them and we didn’t contaminate the streams, if we kept them separate and just let people carry them back to the store where they got them and put them in what they call a reverse vending machine or an appropriately marked bin then we’d be much better off than if we do what we do which is send a truck around to every house to pick up the now contaminated recycling steams bring them to another facility to be sorted out
AS: It’s almost comical
MW: It really is
AS: There’s so many other ways we could do it. So with plastic its obviously up to the producers in a lot of ways right but the one thing that consumers can do is to be responsible for how much plastic is consumed and how they're properly disposing or recycling of that plastic so we have a couple of resources that we’ll offer you guys in a few minutes you guys I mean listeners but before we get to the action there's one final thing I want to talk about we've talked about the interconnectedness of everything which is that we think of ourselves as individuals but we're actually ecosystems teaming with microorganisms that help us digest our food and ward off pathogens and provide us with vitamins and minerals so part of an approach to sustainability is of circularity which is rather than Recycling and reusing things it's actually creating a circular models for products to where there is little to no waste so if you use a product all of the materials that go into it could be reused again and there’s little waste. So can you speak a bit about circularity and how we can behave more like nature? [49:00]
MW: sure I’d say getting a little bit to actions when you buy something consider where it comes from and whether it is part of the circular system whether it comes from a bio-based material look for the USDA bio-based symbol or whether it comes from petrochemical and therefore can’t be part of the bio-based system. When you dispose of it consider where it goes, and by the way I forgot to mention it, I should mention it a US EPA program safer Choice, reviews chemicals in cleaning products specifically make sure that they are very low in product toxicity and makes sure that they are biodegradable so it checks two very important boxes and that symbol is again prominently displayed on products that have passed the EPA safer choice audit so that’s another action you can take along with looking for the bio-preferred label. But then be conscientious about where the product goes, if you think a product may be toxic or may not biodegrade don't flush it down the toilet don't use it where it goes down the sink. Don’t let it go a storm sewer or storm drain because when you do that those non biodegradable toxic materials enter our environment and do harm to other creatures and to ourselves
AS: So essentially it's a mindset action which is to just anytime you purchase something or are about to use it think about where it came from and where it's going to go and what you've added to it
AS: all right awesome and we talked a bit about mindful cleaning as another action so essentially i would boil it down to what you talked about earlier about better ways to disinfect and sanitize it's to take a mild approach unless there are extenuating circumstances such as immunocompromised people living in your home
MW: Exactly, don't be afraid of germs, learn to live with them
AS: Right, I love kombucha, that’s one of the examples that I have. And how to recycle is another, so we talked about how the recycling system we’ve created is almost designed not to work so there are some resources that Seventh Generation has put out that help people recycle better what are those?
MW: There’s an organization called the sustainable packaging Coalition or SPC they also have a logo that you’ll find on seventh generation products and it tells you how to recycle a package that the product is contained in. It tells you whether you can bring it to your recycling center or whether you have to bring it back to your local grocery store to put with your plastic grocery bags for recycling hopefully your grocery store has that or it tells you something is not recyclable if I may tell a little anecdote seventh generation’s brand Department wanted to put a product in a multi laminate package. Multi-laminate materials because they consist of several Plastics in a sandwich are not recyclable because you can't separate those products and we advised against doing it, but we started to go down that path because there was a desire to have this particular packaging and then it came time to do the graphics on the package and the how to recycle symbol was this recycling symbol with the not allowed Circle and diagonal line through it and the brand team looked at that and said we can’t have that on a seventh generation project so I really like the how2recycle label
AS: That’s awesome. It’ just like boom, mic drop moment
MW: Exactly, so people should look for the how to recycle label and then follow the directions AS: perfect keeping it simple and so we've got how2recycle we have the bio-preferred label that we should look out for and the third label you talked about second ago was What Again?
MW: EPA Safer Choice
AS: perfect okay so those are three things for us to look out for and you can always go the old-fashioned way which is just read the label and see what's in it
MW: Easy to say, hard to do
AS: I think even those few things to look out for is really helpful so we talked about a lot what would you like to leave listeners with?
MW: one of my favorite quotes is actually not a quote, it’s a fictitious quote to a Native American chief, Chief Seattle who is attributed to have said “we did not create the web of life, we are a part of it, and anything we do that harms the web harms ourselves.
AS: THat’s brilliant well I'm just going to leave it at that and say that I think the challenge or the opportunity and challenge for all of us today is to take some inventory of the things that we have been using and I think you know you said it easier to to say than to do really if we take the time to just be mindful whenever we're shopping or even to look at what's in the house already you just have to look once maybe twice to remember the better matter of course from there on out so keeping it to a bigger mindset about looking at the web and how we're a part of it is brilliant and I want to thank you so much Martin for being with us today
MW: It was my pleasure, thank you so much for inviting me Alissa
AS: you're welcome and I look forward to continuing this conversation seeing what other things we went to nerd out on together
MW: Okay, me too.
AS: okay good.