Pretty In Punk

Convenience Comes at a Cost [Part 1 in D.I.Y. Series]

February 26, 2018

Convenience Comes at a Cost [Part 1 in D.I.Y. Series]

This series of posts will explore the benefits of adopting a D.I.Y. approach to common household cleaning, gardening and personal care products for those who have the capacity, resources and time.  For the purpose of inclusivity the recipes I share will contain ingredients that are as affordable and easy to acquire as possible; although due to environmental, financial, geographical or health reasons they may not be accessible to, or usable, by everyone.  For this I apologise and I will continue to research more universal options, updating information as it becomes available.

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It's said that "cleanliness is next to godliness" and in my mind this translates to: impossible for any of us mere mortals to achieve.  Perhaps of more relevance to our 21st Century lives however is the fact it’s an exhausting, expensive and never-ending process.  Further, when we consider the number of requisite products to be purchased it becomes extremely time-consuming to select each item from everything on offer, made yet even harder to navigate because we all have different micro needs.  As a result, and completely understandably, we often purchase whatever is made readily available to us out of sheer convenience.

In this age of super-consumption marketers have tapped into this idea of convenience, training us to purchase certain items thinking we'll not only get the most for our money but that they'll legitimately better our lives in some way.  Sometimes, however, more is not more.  There are many environmental, ethical and health issues associated with a lot of these products but without access to or the time for extensive research we continue to make uninformed purchases, not knowing the issues they present.

Consider household cleaning products: we are told via elaborate marketing campaigns that "nothing will be as effective on dirt" or that we need these products in order to protect us (and our loved ones) from bacteria.  In fact, some marketers use blatant scare tactics in the hope that if we fear the common household bacteria, dust mite or germ enough we’ll use every single one of their products to turn our home into a super-sanitised zone.  'Industrial strength' is one marketing-infused brand attribute that suggests cleaning products will make our homes cleaner and that the job will be done faster, cheaper or both.  In reality 'industrial strength' tells us the cleaning product is so strong that it doesn’t belong in our home.

As for personal care, whilst it's not uncommon to spend a lot of time considering what drinks and food we put in our body, little time is spent choosing what to put on our bodies.  Again having found ourselves inundated with endless products which tell us we need to look cleaner, fresher, and younger, we pick that which believe will do all of the above.  These products tend to be chemical-laden and contain numerous unpronounceable names, some of which are so complex that our natural pH level is upset and we find ourselves in a vicious cycle using one product after another to restore our natural balance.

The truth is many ingredients in products we’ve grown to trust are harmful, but most consumers aren’t aware of either the hidden dangers they present to our health, nor how pervasive these health threats are.  Some of the most common ingredients found in household cleaners and personal care products, for example, are known carcinogens, endocrine disruptors or neurotoxins. 

Carcinogens cause cancer and promote cancer’s growth, whilst endocrine disruptors mimic human hormones and confuse the body with false signals.  Exposure to endocrine disruptors can lead to numerous health problems and have been linked to (amongst other things) reduced fertility, premature puberty, miscarriage, challenged immune systems, ADHD, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and certain cancers.

Neurotoxins alter neurons and affect brain activity causing a range of problems from headaches to loss of mental ability; and whilst you may be thinking that the diluted aspect of off-the-shelf cleaning products reduces or altogether eliminates the threat of getting sick from your floor polish, window cleaner or air freshener, many of the toxins found in these products are bio-accumulative meaning the chemicals do not purge easily from the body and over time even mild exposures can add up to toxic levels.

One of the most counter-intuitive health threats is that of household disinfectants.  Common sense tells us that killing household germs protects our health, however disinfectants are pesticides which are fat-soluble and therefore difficult to eliminate from the body once ingested.  Disinfectants may include alkylphenol ethoxylates (APEs) which act as surfactants, meaning they lower the surface tension of liquids and help cleaning solutions spread more easily over the surface to be cleaned and penetrate solids.  Found also in detergents, all-purpose cleaners and laundry cleansers, as well as many personal care items such as spermicides, sanitary towels and disposable diapers, APEs are endocrine disruptors. 

Formaldehyde is commonly known as a preservative and is found in household cleaners and disinfectants, as well as nail polish and other personal care products; it is also a carcinogen.

Organochlorines result from the combination of hydrogen and carbon.  Some types are highly deadly, such as DDT, whilst others are present in pesticides, detergents, de-greasers, and dry-cleaning fluids.  OCs are bio-accumulative and highly persistent in the environment; they are also carcinogens and endocrine disruptors.

Phthalates are most commonly used in the manufacture of plastics but are also used as carriers for perfumes and air fresheners as well as skin penetration enhancers for products such as moisturisers.  They are classified as inert, i.e. chemically inactive, and as such no product-labelling requirements exist for them; however phthalates are endocrine disruptors and suspected carcinogens, known to cause hormonal abnormalities, thyroid disorders, birth defects and reproductive problems.

Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) are emitted as gases, suspending themselves in the air, and include an array of chemicals present in perfumes, air fresheners, disinfectants and deodorisers.  VOCs commonly include propane, butane, ethanol, phthalates and formaldehyde, each of which poses a variety of human health hazards; collectively these are thought to be reproductive toxins, neurotoxins, liver toxins and carcinogens.

Besides our own health, there is the health of the environment to consider.  That which poisons human beings poisons the earth and all of the other species living on it.  What happens to the products once used?  Inevitably they end up on cloths and sponges in the garbage which get tossed into landfill, and we all know that landfills are no good for the environment.  Furthermore, what happens to all of the containers these products come in?  They can’t always be recycled because of the residue that remains inside and while it's generally recommended they go to hazardous waste facilities, unless the garbage facilities take responsibility for this millions of containers end up in landfill each year.

With adequate personal capacity, resources and time, the best thing we can do is use natural and non-toxic homemade alternatives. No chemicals. No fumes. No harm. And whilst taking a greener approach may or may not help you feel noticeably any different, you will be creating a safer environment for yourself, family and friends, companion animals and the future.

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Next blog post in series: the most economical and multi-use ingredients to have available for D.I.Y. alternatives.

Photo by Brooke Lark on Unsplash

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