2009 was a banner year for us, as we made significant upgrades to the environmental and health profiles and the performance of several of our products.
Research Chemist Heather Beach describes product formulation changes that increased the renewable (plant- or mineral-based) carbon content, eliminated undesirable byproducts such as 1,4-dioxane, and improved the efficiency of several of our cleaners and laundry products. In this video, you will hear her talk about our efforts to increase the renewable content of our products. This means that we monitor our progress in eliminating synthetic ingredients by tracking what we call the "renewable carbon content" of our materials.
Our 2009 product upgrades will save 1,685,000 pounds of oil in 2010. Research Chemist Cara Bondi details the environmental savings in this video.
On Improving our hand dishwashing liquid
For the past two years, we’ve been on a mission to reformulate our hand dishwashing liquid to remove the small amounts of 1,4-dioxane that had been present as a byproduct of a reaction called ethoxylation. Our previous hand dishwashing formula used a surfactant system based on sodium lauryl ether sulfate (SLES), which can be a source of 1,4-dioxane contamination. Even though we made sure the levels of this contaminant were extremely low (less than 5 ppm), we were committed to providing our consumers a product without any 1,4-dioxane, a possible human carcinogen.
Our search led us to a surfactant system based on Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS) which does not cause 1,4-dioxane formation. This switch from SLES, which is a plant-derived surfactant that is modified with petroleum, to the plant-derived SLS increased the renewable carbon content of the dish liquid by 27%. Patting ourselves on the back, we eagerly awaited the test results that would confirm our success. To our dismay, 1,4-dioxane was detected — despite the fact that none of the chemicals associated with it are present in the new formula. Even worse, the levels we were finding with SLS were almost as high as the levels we had found with SLES. We tested just the SLS; we used different suppliers. The results were always the same.
Diving into this further, we discovered that SLS is often formed on the same equipment used to make SLES. If chemical suppliers don’t clean their reactors properly between batches, there can be cross-contamination with 1,4-dioxane.
We took these findings to our own supplier as well as others in the industry interested in addressing this. Fortunately, there are solutions. Suppliers can change their methods of working with SLES to eliminate some of the 1,4-dioxane, and they can employ better production, cleaning, and wash-out procedures to reduce the likelihood of cross-contamination. Now our hand dishwashing liquid tests do not detect any 1,4-dioxane. And we’ve gone way beyond improving the small amount of SLS we purchase every year; the research has the potential to improve all of the SLS used across the entire industry.”