How Green is Ecover Dish-wash really?

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Ecover has always been touted as, basically, the forerunner of all green and environmentally friendly dish-wash liquids, washing powders, and such.

It is lauded by the United Nations for protecting the earth, and the company's products scour many a lean and green homes.

However, in a recent study in the United States it was found that Ecover dish-wash liquid contains extremely high amounts of 1,4-Dioxane, often also simply called dioxane.

Ecover was, however, found to have almost twice the amount of dioxane than regular off-the-shelf dish washing detergent (2.4 parts per million, versus 1.6). This is at least a tad worrying due to the fact that there are trace amounts of soap that one ingests with every meal, and that the chemical has been linked to immune system disruption. Cheers!

Dioxane, is a clear, colorless heterocyclic organic compound which is a liquid at room temperature and pressure. It has the molecular formula C4H8O2 and a boiling point of 101°C. It is commonly used as an aprotic solvent. 1,4-Dioxane has a weak smell similar to that of diethyl ether.

1,4-Dioxane is primarily used in solvent applications for the manufacturing sector; however, it is also found in fumigants and automotive coolant. Additionally, the chemical is also used as a foaming agent and appears as an accidental byproduct of the ethoxylation process in cosmetics manufacturing. It may contaminate cosmetics and personal care products such as deodorants, shampoos, toothpastes and mouthwashes.

Dioxanes combine with atmospheric oxygen on standing to form explosive peroxides, similar to many other ethers. Distillation of dioxanes concentrates these peroxides increasing the danger. Appropriate precautions should be taken.

1,4-dioxane is a known eye and respiratory tract irritant. It is suspected of causing damage to the central nervous system, liver and kidneys. Accidental worker exposure to 1,4-dioxane has resulted in several deaths. Dioxane is classified by the IARC as a Group 2B carcinogen: possibly carcinogenic to humans due to the fact that it is a known carcinogen in animals.

To the concern expressed by some who contacted Ecover the company's PR people responded with the following below (it is also a shame that they do not know there dioxane from their dioxin.

Substantial quantities of dioxine [sic] are found in the production of synthetic fibers, such as polyester, a fabric that is worn daily by roughly 85 % of the planet’s population.

Mainly produced by two US companies, the ingredient is also used in high dosages as a solvent in mass production, including the paper and cotton industry as well as the polymer industry for the production of PET bottles.

It is therefore astonishing that the above-mentioned investigation turned a blind eye on such superabundant and well-spread sources and preferred to single out easy-to-research, mere minute traces of dioxine in detergents.

Several years ago, the European detergent industry put a limit on dioxane traces at 100 parts per million of surfactant. Ecover’s own criterion is set at half, namely 50 parts per million.

This leads to values as low as the 2,4 parts detected in the Ecover product.

The threshold for reporting the presence of dioxane in tap water in The Netherlands, a country with a stringent environmental legislation, is 3 parts per million parts of water. This means that, in the unlikely event, you drank an entire bottle of pure Ecover Dishwashing liquid you still wouldn’t reach that threshold!”

The above statement, in my opinion, is more than uncaring and unhelpful. In fact it smacks of arrogance rather than of concern and certainly not of a company who has always been upheld as a model of ethical behaviour and green credentials. I have no knowledge of the regulations of the drinking water in the Netherlands but for some reason, having spent a while in that country, I cannot see that that attitude should be a fact there. Also, why does the company cite the Netherlands when it, itself is based not in the Netherlands but in Belgium?

I have been using Ecover dish-washing liquid for some years now. Firstly for environmental reasons and secondly, nowadays, for reasons of costs for, indeed, Ecover is now cheaper in places such as Sainsbury's in the UK than is the country's favorite, namely, Fairy Liquid. I must say though that I have found that Ecover is much harsher to my hands – I am male but have rather sensitive skin – than, in fact, I found Fairy Liquid to be and I must say that, therefore, for both reasons, e.g. the content of this harmful chemical in Ecover to have found to be higher than in other brands and two the fact that my skin is suffering (after use over about 2 years now) that I shall be switching back to Fairy Liquid. In addition to that I have also found that Fairy is more economical – you do not need as much of it – as is Ecover.

After this I must say that, for the time being at least, Ecover gets a thumbs down from me.

© M Smith (Veshengro), April 2008