This probably comes as no surprise to anyone already in the SOS Community, but a recent study conducted at the University of Washington found that fragranced products, including “green” ones, release many chemicals that are not listed on the label. Some of said chemicals are even classified as toxic….
It’s probably one of the most common questions that we get asked at the Story of Stuff Project: “How do you all stay so positive in the face of (insert horrifying ecological or social problem here)?”
In Annie’s case, we think it might be chemical, but for the rest of the Story of Stuff crew, a huge reason we keep coming to the office everyday is the opportunity to connect with people around the world who are inventing Another Way. Let’s face it; it’s hard to be Debbie Downer when the folks around you are so inspiring.
My most recent brush with solutions has me all a flutter (in addition to confirming that I am an absolute and total geek).
This July I spent the better part of a week in Lowell, Massachusetts at the Lowell Center’s Sustainability Action Summer Institute. The training was a gathering of a special kind of nerd (myself included) who is fascinated by the toxicity of various chemical compounds in cleaning products and thinks that brominated flame retardants in cell phones makes for stimulating dinner conversation. Needless to say, I had a great time.
I think I found the week so nourishing mainly because the entire meeting was solutions oriented. Here was a room full of policy wonks, academics, scientists, foundation representatives, and sustainability advocates who really understand the disastrous consequences of our super toxic, chemical-laden culture for people and the planet. If ever there was a group of people who could tell you how x-chemical causes cancer and y-chemical is killing off all the fish and z-chemical results in birth defects this was it.
Yet for the five days that I was in Lowell, the conversation was almost exclusively about what was being done to change the landscape and bring us closer to the kind of future we want: debriefs on state and national policies—like the Safer Chemicals Act—to regulate the use of toxic chemicals; an orientation on the Pharos database that helps activists study up on toxic chemicals and helps green builders make safer and more sustainable materials choices; talking through frameworks for sustainable products and alternatives assessments; and exploring the groundbreaking work being done to green the electronics industry.
One real highlight was a dinner with John Warner, one of the fathers of green chemistry. Warner inspired me with the incredible possibility that creativity and innovation hold for transforming entire industries to be safer and more sustainable. Even if less geeky sectors of the population may not be as enthralled as I am by the possibility of dry chemicals reactions or a database comparing the most sustainable, least toxic resilient flooring options, I think that we can all agree that creativity and innovation are captivating.
To borrow from one of the Lowell Center’s slogans “Natural resources are finite, ideas are not.” And that is a very good thing.
Remember that battery-powered, light up shaving gel product, called NXT, that got me all riled up last month? Well, to be honest, it wasn’t just the sheer selfishness and cluelessness of putting an LED light and AAA batteries in a shave gel bottle that got me so freaked out. I mean, really, the stores are full of selfish, clueless products.
The thing that got me about this bottle was that none of the articles I originally read about this packaging even hinted at any concern about the impact of the package once it entered the waste stream. The articles just gushed on about how “innovative” it was. I checked the product’s website and saw that all the comments on the blog were either about how cool it is to have light up bottles in the bathroom or tips on where to buy it for the lowest cost. (Walmart).
I actually had a nightmare about it. I dreamt I was in a huge auditorium and some guy who invented the bottle was giving a speech and the audience was all politely clapping. In my dream, I stood up and objected that a shave gel bottle with an LED light and a pair of AAA batteries isn’t moving us in the right direction. In my dream, no one heard me although I began yelling louder and louder. I felt invisible.
I woke up feeling totally depressed. Then I checked my emails and had dozens of emails from people all over the world for whom Story of Stuff resonnates and inspires. I had this overwhelming sense of not being alone. So I decided to blog about it. And in my blog, I shared the URL of the NXT shave gel blog.
I checked the NXT blog the next day and there were a number of posts raising concerns about the wastefulness of the product’s packaging. (thanks everyone!)
Then three more things happened that made me smile.
One, the What’s NXT blog got taken down. Hmmmm, interesting coincidence, eh?
Two, Cheryl Jones from the company that makes NXT emailed me directly and explained that the “The bottom cap is intended to be ‘reusable’ as a toy or other lighting device as the batteries are replaceable.” OH, I see…it’s not actually excessive shave gel packaging; it is a toy or flashlight that comes with some free shaving gel. I wonder why none of the PR material or articles I read explained these plans for future uses of the bottle.
Three, some of you emailed me and took my critique even further, raising concerns about why we need to purchase mass produced shaving gel in the first place.
Excellent point folks. The more I learn about personal care products, the emptier my bathroom shelves become.
I’ve learned a lot about personal care products lately, thanks to my friend and office-mate Stacy Malkan, who you all know as the person in the Story of Stuff with the flat screen computer monitor. Among other things, Stacy works with the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics and she just wrote a book called: “Not Just a Pretty Face: The Ugly Side of the Beauty Industry.” (www.notjustaprettyface.org)
I’ve learned that personal care products – including cosmetics, shampoo, shave gel, lotion and more — are not regulated by the FDA. It is perfectly legal and common for companies to use ingredients that are known or suspected to be carcinogens, mutagens or reproductive toxins in the their products that we then put on our bodies!
If you want to know how your favorite personal care products rate on toxicity scales, check out Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep database at: cosmeticsdatabase.org. This database pairs ingredients in over 25,000 products against 50 toxics and regulatory databases, making it the largest publicly available database of its kind.
My friend Stacy is about to go on a book tour to share information about toxics in personal care products and to enlist people to join the campaign to force these companies to phase out the use of chemicals linked to cancer, birth defects and other health problems, and replace them with safer alternatives. Duh. We’re putting this stuff on our bodies!
Here’s Stacy’s tour schedule. If you want to learn more, join one of Stacy’s events or contact the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics at safecosmetics.org. And pass it on to friends in any of these town.
BEAUTY NEWS WE CAN ALL USE: Lead in lipstick? 1,4 dioxane in baby shampoo? What’s going on? Simple. The $50 billion beauty industry is so powerful they’ve kept themselves unregulated for decades. Learn the latest news about toxic chemicals in personal care products, discover the secret to choosing safer alternatives, and join the effort to give the beauty industry a makeover, as Stacy Malkan reads from her new book, “Not Just a Pretty Face: The Ugly Side of the Beauty Industry.” www.NotJustaPrettyFace.org
LOS ALTOS, CA – Elephant Pharmacy
Saturday April 5; 1:00 pm – 2:00 pm
4470 El Camino Real, Los Altos, CA 94022
WALNUT CREEK, CA – Elephant Pharmacy
Tuesday, April 8; 7:00 pm – 8:00 pm
1388 S. California Blvd., Walnut Creek, CA 94596
BERKELEY, CA – Elephant Pharmacy
Wednesday, April 9; 7:00 pm – 8:00 pm
1607 Shattuck Avenue, Berkeley, CA 94709
SEATTLE, WA Green Festival
Saturday, April 12; 3:00 – 4:00 pm
OAKLAND, CA – Peralta Colleges’ Annual Conference on Urban Sustainability
Friday, April 18; 11-12:30 a.m.
Merritt College, 12500 Campus Drive, Oakland CA 94619
SAN RAFAEL, CA – Elephant Pharmacy
Saturday, April 19; 1:00 pm – 2:00 pm
909 Grand Avenue San Rafael, CA 94901
BOSTON, MA – Border’s Books at Downtown Crossing
Tuesday May 6; 6:30-8 pm
Borders at State St T stop, corner of Washington and School
CHICAGO, IL – Green Festival
Saturday, MAY 18; 12 – 1:00 pm
Buy the book at www.SafeCosmetics.org and a portion of proceeds benefit the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics!