It is challenging to be a conscious consumer.
It seems like it should be pretty simple–you go to the store, pick out items that say they’re clean and green, and use them. The problem is many brands make those claims without having to back them up. They toss around ambiguous labels, like safe, natural, and eco-friendly. The packaging reinforces their appearance as sustainable options. From the outside, it’s all very convincing, but what is on the inside of the package is just as important. The reality is that most of those commonly found products claiming to be safe and environmentally conscious are actually harmful to us, our children, and the environment.
When you visit Dogwood Refillery, you can be certain that 100% of the items we carry are non-toxic. This is simply not the case if you visit the grocery store or other retailer. We thoroughly evaluate each and every product we offer. Ingredient transparency is of utmost importance to us–not just regarding toxic ingredients but any ingredients. We are mindful of the fact that our customers may need to avoid certain products due to allergies or sensitivities. You can find the ingredients listed on all of the products we stock. We also include the information on our website to make it as easy as possible to find.
What is our evaluation process like? It takes double and even triple checking. When we assess a product, we consider:
o Does it contain harmful chemicals?
o Is the product or packaging refillable, reusable, recyclable, or compostable?
o Is it from a local supplier? / What is its carbon footprint?
There are some ingredients we know should be avoided based on the research available today. Those include:
- Per- and Polyfluorinated Substances
o Also known as: PFAS, “Forever Chemicals”
o Chemicals that make coatings for products including clothing, furniture, non-stick cooking items, food packaging, and more
o Also known as: dioxane, p-dioxane, diethylene dioxide, diethylene oxide
o A stabilizer in industrial solvents; byproducts found in household products including laundry detergents, shampoos, and cosmetics
o Also known as: MI, MIT
o A preservative found in many household products, including cosmetics
o Also known as: toluene, styrene, phenol, anisole
o A chemical solvent found in aerosol dry shampoos, deodorants, and sunscreens
- Polyvinyl alcohol
o Also known as: PVA, PVOH
o A plastic found in laundry and dishwasher pods and sheets
It’s important to note that many toxic chemicals found in commonly used products aren’t actually defined as ingredients. These chemicals are used in the manufacture of the products and, therefore, may not be listed as ingredients on product labels. You may be wondering why and how harmful chemicals are able to make their way into so many commonly used products. In short, they’re legally allowed.
According to the Guardian, “hundreds of potentially harmful ingredients banned in the European Union are legally allowed in the United States. In cosmetics alone, the EU has banned or restricted more than 1,300 chemicals while the US has outlawed or curbed just 11.” The legal use of these chemicals in manufacturing and production makes it even harder to determine if the products you’re using are safe.
When we need assistance verifying a product’s safety, there is no single place to turn that is a perfect resource. However, we do usually check the Environmental Working Group (EWG) first. The EWG is a non-profit organization dedicated to public health. Made up of scientists, policy experts, lawyers, and communications and data experts, the EWG provides education about product safety and works to reform US chemical safety and agricultural laws.
Even with the EWG, we have to take a nuanced approach to vetting ingredients. For example, borax (i.e., sodium borate) has a poor rating with the EWG even though it is a natural and effective cleaning agent–and safe when used judiciously–that’s present in many non-toxic laundry detergents. Read more about borax here. Meanwhile, vinegar (i.e., an acid) has a positive rating with the EWG but should be used mindfully, as it can be damaging if used inappropriately or in excess.
Fragrance is another ingredient rated poorly by the EWG. That’s with good reason, unless you can confirm that a maker has done their due diligence to ensure they use only toxic-free, synthetic fragrances. This is not a case in which “natural” is better, as essential oils are not necessarily safe or sustainable. That’s why we’ve made the decision to not include essential oils in our stock of bulk, refillable items. Read more about essential oils here. If you see a product containing fragrance at Dogwood Refillery, know that we have thoroughly screened it with our supplier.
We encourage you to check a product’s safety with the EWG. If you do, keep in mind that you should confirm when the evaluation was last updated. If it was a few years ago, be cautious–ingredient lists tend to change every few years, and the information may already be out of date.
Occasionally, we get questions about why we don’t carry certain name-brand, commonly used products in our store. If we don’t have it, it’s likely because it didn’t pass our toxicity and sustainability evaluation process. However, whenever possible, we provide non-toxic, sustainable alternatives. If there’s a type of item you need that you don’t see on our shelves, please consult with us, and we’ll do our best to find a safe option.
Products we DO NOT stock because they have harmful ingredients:
Comparable products we DO stock because they have non-toxic ingredients:
We may not have name brands you see in other stores, but we have lots of local and small businesses whose names you will come to know and love!
Laura Drummond, a sustainability-focused freelance writer based in Charlottesville, is our blog contributor.