While it is still difficult to find such products in Spanish supermarkets, brands offering more environmentally responsible alternatives are beginning to appear on the shelves and can be ordered online
Raquel C. Pico
Friday, 14 April 2023, 08:30
Rarely a day goes by when we don’t use some kind of cleaning product, unless of course you’re the kind of person who lets the washing up stack up for days before you get around to doing it. For everyone else, the first time we use cleaning products is after breakfast; wiping down the breakfast table and then washing up any crockery, cutlery and other utensils with a little washing-up liquid on a sponge.
Cleaning products are ubiquitous - the dishwasher, the washing machine, a quick mop of the kitchen floor, or keeping the toilet clean and smelling fresh. These are the products that are trusted to keep the home in good condition, but they are not doing so for nature.
Concern about the effects of cleaning products on the environment has been growing in recent years. A 2021 Mintel analysis acknowledged that, while the percentage of shoppers buying only 'eco' cleaning products was still small, the industry expected growth: those who had already tried were, in fact, buying more green cleaners.
Analysts were already signalling that shoppers wanted their products to be linked to a more positive view of health and also to a more sustainable strategy. "Brands that are able to strike a balance between sustainability and germ management, while creating a more enjoyable cleaning experience, will be most successful," said Jennifer White Boehm, research director for beauty, personal care and home at the consultancy firm.
And while it is still difficult to find such products in Spanish supermarkets, brands offering more environmentally responsible alternatives are beginning to appear on the shelves and can be ordered online. "Consumers of cleaning products are becoming more and more conscious thanks to increased environmental awareness," says Sara Climent, head of the marketing department at Jabones Beltrán, who points out that this is why customers are asking for "products that are aligned with their values of sustainability and responsibility".
Creating a product that is truly green involves many factors. "Everything has an influence. From the selection and sourcing of raw materials, to the production process - sustainable at all levels - as well as the choice of packaging and the generation of waste," Climent explains.
Her company has been using traditional soap-making as a base for more than 100 years and while other products were more popular in the 20th century, the company started to noticed a change in the market in the 2000s. "We began to see that there was greater environmental awareness and that consumers were looking for more environmentally friendly and certified products," Climent says. The company started with detergents and laundry products, and now they have a line - Biobel - for other areas of cleaning.
Going green "has many benefits", says Ferrán Aznar, CEO of Washaby, a Spanish startup that markets - mainly online for now - ecological detergents. To begin with, these products respond to the same needs as traditional ones. "No matter how ecological it is, if it doesn't clean, I'm not going to use it", Aznar acknowledges.
"As the whole composition is organic, there are no microplastics," Aznar says. You can't avoid dumping the microplastics released by your own clothes into the sewage system - unless, of course, you choose to buy certain garments - but you can avoid adding the microplastics that detergents and fabric softeners contribute. "Fabric softener is an ultra-pollutant," Aznar points out.
Furthermore, the ingredients of traditional products themselves have direct effects on ecosystems. "If the ingredients in detergents do not biodegrade - or do so very slowly - it leads to a phenomenon called eutrophication," explains Climent. "This consists of an exaggerated influx of nutrients that causes phytoplankton population to overgrow and kills all life in the aquatic environment," he explains. "Thanks to the rapid biodegradation of ecological cleaners, the water that goes down the drain can in many cases be used directly for irrigation," he says.
Even if waste water goes through a treatment plant, removing everything that has been added by the cleaners is not always easy. Climent points out that if they do not biograde quickly in the sewage sludge either, they will end up affecting soil.
Not cleaning at all is impossible, but considering how to make them more environmentally friendly is not. Respect for the environment often has a parallel effect that consumers appreciate, according to Sara Climent. She says that not only do they look after the health of the planet, but by using "natural formulations that are totally free of harmful elements", they can also look after people's health.
Pros and cons
One of the downsides to eco-cleaners could be on the smell; decades of marketing have established in our brains what the standard of a 'good' cleaning product should be. The fragrance of environmentally friendly products isn’t as strong as industrial detergents and does not stay on clothes in the same way.
It’s not that they smell bad, but they don’t smell as good we’ve perhaps become used to. Ferrán Aznar explains that a lot of chemicals are added to detergents in order for them to smell so good, which is what guarantees that long-lasting intensity. "If we added more perfume, we wouldn't be able to say that we are ecological," he says.
Price is also a big issue for sustainable products. The CEO of Washaby admits that it annoys him a little when people say that organic products are expensive. "It's a question of crunching the numbers," he points out, because it's not just that green detergents save on environmental impact, but also that, if you look at how much they cost per washing machine, their prices are not very different from the average cost of high-end detergents in supermarkets.
However, the industry faces more than a few challenges and paradoxes. For example, Aznar points to the fact that green cleaners are sometimes sold in plastic bottles. Their detergent - in single-dose capsules and produced locally - is marketed in a cardboard box, but he points out that they cannot yet use sustainable alternatives - such as electric vehicles for their distribution - because they do not exist on the market.
"There are ecological products that are not", warns Ferrán Aznar, who warns that consumers shouldn’t always believe words like 'eco'. He advises reading the label to confirm that product really is environmentally friendly. The composition must be truly sustainable and respectful and some labels, such as Ecolabel, certify that this is the case. It is also important that they are local products: it doesn't matter if a cleaner uses green ingredients if its carbon footprint is very high because it comes from Asia, for example.
Necesitas ser suscriptor para poder votar.