This is from “Science for Environment Policy / Issue 177” (service from the European Commission)

A new study provides recommendations to reduce the environmental impact of personal hygiene and cleaning products on the environment. Researchers undertook life-cycle assessments of products including detergents, soaps and toilet cleaners, and compared their environmental footprints looking at different types of environmental damage.
Consumer products undoubtedly take a large toll on the environment. The energy and raw materials used in production, packaging and distribution of products obviously have an impact, but inefficient use of products by consumers can also add to the environmental burden. Most studies of the environmental impact of cleaning products have focused on laundry detergents and there is almost no public research available on household cleaning and personal hygiene products from a full life-cycle perspective.

With this in mind, Swiss researchers conducted a full life-cycle assessment of nine different products using data from industry and consumer behaviour studies. The products studied were: liquid and bar soaps, liquid and powder detergents, a stain removing detergent booster and a toilet care product, plus bath, kitchen and window cleaners. They calculated that the use of these products account for around 1 per cent of the 10 tons of CO2 equivalents produced by the average European consumer each year.

Crucially, the consumers themselves cause a large impact. The impact of these products on the environment would be substantially reduced if consumers could be encouraged to drive less often or smaller distances to buy their cleaning products, and apply only the necessary amounts, using cold water where possible. In many cases, replacing outdated household appliances could also help reduce the burden. However, different waste disposal or recycling options had little effect on environmental impact.

Recommendations arising from the study included the following:

• High water content can unnecessarily increase the amount of packaging needed for a product. Manufacturers should instead sell cleaning products in pouches to cut down on energy and materials required for packaging, production and transportation.
• There is little data available on the environmental impact of industrial production processes. More studies are required.
• Producers and retailers should consider offering and promoting refillable packages.
• The land and water use impacts of products made from vegetable oils should be carefully considered in the context of the location where the oils are produced.
• In general, more in depth life-cycle assessments are required to help guide policy making for more sustainable products.

Source: Koehler, A. and Wildbolz, W. (2009). Comparing the Environmental Footprints of Home-Care and Personal-Hygiene Products: The Relevance of Different Life-Cycle Phases. Environmental Science and Technology. 43(22): 8643-8651.

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