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Ecover hits back at greenwash allegations

Louise Bateman
4th May 2010
Leading eco household cleaning brand Ecover has hit back at a report that says it has exaggerated the environmental claims on a number of its products. 
 Consumer rights magazine Which? released a study last week claiming that Ecover, along with a number of other leading brands, had failed to back up the claims on its green product labels with convincing evidence.

Which? questioned the validity of eight cleaning products with eco messages, including Ecover’s toilet cleaner and laundry products. It also tested other leading brands such as Sainsbury’s Cleanhome and Tesco Naturally.

In particular, the consumer watchdog said Ecover could not back up with sufficient evidence claims that its toilet cleaner was more ecological and biodegraded more rapidly than standard brands and that its eco laundry products had a minimum impact on acquatic life and no optical brighteners.

The Which? report concluded: "Our scientists felt that there was no convincing evidence to show that the chemicals found in a standard toilet cleaner would have a significantly worse impact on aquatic life.

"There are laws in place ensuring the biodegradability of detergents and toilet cleaners all go through a waste treatment plant to remove harmful chemicals once they leave your home in waste water."

Concerning Ecover’s laundry product, Which? said, "our scientists felt that there was no convincing evidence to show that the chemicals found in market-leading tablets would have a significantly worse impact on aquatic life than these specialist 'green' products".

Ecover has responded to the greenwash claims on its website, saying it was not given an opportunity to respond in full to the questions posed to it by Which?

"Which? gave Ecover merely 50 words to respond with, leaving us with no other choice than to give a very brief explanation to just one of the remarks given by Which?," the company said in a statement.

Defending its 'fast and complete biodegradability' claim, the company said the "Ecover laboratory selects its raw materials on the basis of their plant or mineral sourcing, with the highest possible biodegradability and minimum toxicity to the water environment. Ecover goes above and beyond legislation for biodegradability."

It went on to say that "virtually every laundry tablet will contain approximately four per cent polycarboxylates and phosphonates as mentioned on the ingredient list on the packaging which is compulsory. These chemicals are generally classified as 'persistent’ [and] potentially dangerous.

"Ecover never uses persistent chemicals. Optical brighteners are also classified as persistent chemicals which is an additional reason for Ecover to not use them."

Ecover went on to defend its claim that its detergents had minimum impact on aquatic life compared to other detergents, once detergents had been through a sewage works. It said that this gave "a false feeling of security" and that it did not take into account the environmental impact the water industry had on the environment.

"We are completely dependent on water, but the reality is the water system is very fragile. All of our water starts as rain, which we collect from rivers and underground wells, but we take more than the system can bear and then we waste it. We all have a duty to lighten the burden on our water system by trying to keep it pollution free," it said.

The Which? report is, nevertheless, already having an impact on how some eco brands market themselves.

As a result of the investigation, Tesco has decided to remove the claim 'no phosphates’ from its Tesco Naturally toilet cleaner's packaging, according to Which?, because the watchdog had pointed out that other leading toilet cleaners didn’t contain phosphates or leave hazardous chemical residues either.

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Ecover hits back at greenwash allegations
Ecover and other leading brands' eco claims have been questioned by a Which? report
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