Seventh Generation's Response to OCA
We applaud the Organic Consumer Association’s (OCA) recent research efforts to educate consumers about the safety of personal care and home cleaning products. It is important for consumers to know that Seventh Generation’s dish liquid, which does contain a minute amount of the ethoxylate 1,4-dioxane, is deemed safe according to the FDA’s and our own strict guidelines.
We are committed to eliminating all harmful chemicals from household cleaning products. Consistent with our core mission, we have worked with surfactant manufacturers for many years to reduce levels of 1,4-dixoane in ethoxylated surfactants and it is our intent to completely eliminate 1,4-dioxane from all of our products.
The OCA research reviewed personal care products such as hand soaps and shampoos alongside household cleaning products with different usage and efficacy requirements. As noted in the Los Angeles Times on March 14, 2008, “Dishwashing liquids are particularly hard to keep free of 1,4-dioxane because they require surfactants that are powerful grease cutters.” Liquid laundry detergents also require surfactants for stain removal.
We share the OCA’s concerns about the misuse of terms such as “organic” and “natural” and the lack of disclosure requirements. We have championed this cause and have led the market for twenty years. We also believe that the decision to stop using conventional synthetic chemical cleaners is one of the most important ones you’ll ever make for the health of your family and the safety of your home. While our products are not perfect today, we will continue to improve them and are confident that they are a much better and safer choice than traditional cleaning products.
Is There An Alternative to Ethoxylates?
We don’t believe that today there is a better or safer choice. Ethoxylation is used to modify plant oils to make them function as surfactants. It is possible to create surfactants without ethoxylation, but there are trade-offs. One alternative, for example, is to use exclusively petroleum-derived materials. However, this is less sustainable than using renewable plant oils. Petroleum-derived surfactants may also have less desirable biodegradability and toxicity profiles. For anionic (negatively charged) surfactants, another alternative is to not ethoxylate the plant oils. The resulting surfactants (SLS, for example) are more irritating than the equivalent ethoxylated surfactant.
It is also worth noting that all of the dish liquids tested by the OCA contained ethoxylates. Furthermore, according to the OCA, no viable alternative currently exists and will need to be developed and thoroughly tested.
For our dish liquids and liquid laundry detergents, ethoxylates help deliver products that work. While that is true for now, we are working to eliminate ethoxylates from all products in the future.
Our Commitment To You
Consumers want to know what ingredients are in the products they use in their homes and they want to be informed about the potential effects of these chemicals on their health and the health of their families. At Seventh Generation, we believe the best way to produce this information to consumers, at the point of purchase, is through full disclosure of ingredients on product labels.
That’s why we’re proud to have led the industry as one of the few manufacturers of household cleaning products to voluntarily disclose ingredients. Seventh Generation has instituted a two tier system of disclosure, using consumer-friendly descriptions on our packaging (for example, "coconut oil derived cleaning agent"), and specific chemical or INCI names on our Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS), which are available on our website. In addition to ingredient disclosure on our labels and MSDS, as described above, consumers are able to call our toll-free number for ingredient lists, or for additional information about each ingredient.
Seventh Generation has submitted testimony to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) asking that they include definitions for "organic" and "natural" in the revised edition of the Green Marketing Guidelines. This will assure that all manufacturers use the terms "organic" and "natural" in a consistent way.
At present, the term "natural" does not have a regulated definition. In the absence of regulation Seventh Generation has defined "natural" to mean "derived from natural materials." Surfactants that are made from plant oils and minerals are "natural" by this definition. This includes the surfactants used in our products.
There are a number of organizations working to educate consumers about safer household and personal care products. We encourage consumers to learn more about Women’s Voices for the Earth, their Safe Cleaning Products Initiative, and to get the facts about safe cleaning products in their report, Household Hazards.