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Ever Greener Cleaners

Industry coalition aims to improve the environmental profile of cleaning and personal care products

by Stephen K. Ritter
January 5, 2009 | APPEARED IN VOLUME 87, ISSUE 1

Credit: Procter & Gamble (left) Seventh Generation (right)
Procter & Gamble and Seventh Generation are among firms that aim to further improve cleaning products.
Credit: Procter & Gamble (left) Seventh Generation (right)
Procter & Gamble and Seventh Generation are among firms that aim to further improve cleaning products.

CLEANING AND PERSONAL CARE products might become greener thanks to a new partnership between industry and the American Chemical Society's Green Chemistry Institute (GCI).

GCI and the manufacturers of household and industrial cleaning products, cosmetics, and related consumer items have founded the Formulated Products Roundtable. The aim of this industry-financed effort is for competing formulator companies to share their knowledge and experience in green chemistry and engineering to create products that are safer to make and use, are environmentally friendlier, and promote sustainability.

The initiative is modeled after GCI's Pharmaceutical Roundtable, created in 2005, which is working to resolve common drug discovery and process chemistry challenges in the pharmaceutical industry.

Formulator companies don't manufacture chemicals but instead purchase ingredients from chemical companies and then use proprietary recipes to mix them. More than a dozen companies that make soaps, laundry detergents, kitchen and bathroom cleansers, carpet cleaners, perfumes, and cosmetics are involved in launching the Formulated Products Roundtable. Among them are Bissell Homecare, Clorox, Johnson & Johnson, Amway Global, Procter & Gamble, Seventh Generation, and Sysco.

"Retailers are promoting greener products, and consumers are saying they want greener products," says David C. Long, an environmental consultant and a GCI governing board member who serves as the roundtable's facilitator. "But in some cases, the greener ingredients we would like to use just don't exist."

Targets for the new roundtable include finding a more biodegradable replacement for the metal-ion chelator EDTA and finding greener versions of biocides, which prevent bacterial growth in liquid products. Ingredient suppliers will have an incentive to commercialize the identified alternatives, Long says, "because there will be an instant market for these ingredients."

The roundtable is a "nice complement" to the formulator industry's existing resources for identifying safer surfactants, solvents, fragrances, and other ingredients, says Clive Davies, chief of EPA's Design for the Environment program, which among its activities works with formulator companies and nongovernmental organizations to improve cleaning products. These types of consumer-driven and industry-led initiatives can result in products with more positive human health and environmental profiles, Davies adds. "It's a winning situation for everyone," he says.



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