Tue, Jan 04, 2011 - Page 9 News List

Going green while pursuing whiter whites

If disodium diaminostilbene disulfonate isn’t for you, there’s a growing range of eco-friendly laundry detergents

By Andrew Adam Newman  /  NY Times News Service

According to the Tide Web site, two optical brighteners — disodium diaminostilbene disulfonate and disodium distyrylbiphenyl disulfonate — are used in dozens of Tide varieties. (Representatives of Tide did not return messages seeking -comment on the use of optical brighteners.)

Mintel, a market research firm, called Seventh Generation “the home laundry category leader in environmentally-friendly products,” adding that the success of the brand was instrumental in the Clorox Green Works brand deciding to introduce a laundry detergent in 2009.

In the year ending Oct. 31, Seventh Generation detergent had total revenue of US$27.5 million, an increase of 1.5 percent over the previous year, according to SymphonyIRI, whose totals do not include Wal-Mart. That is less than a 1 percent share of the detergent market, which totaled US$3.62 billion.

Seventh Generation, which focuses marketing efforts primarily on social-media marketing and public relations, spent just US$99,000 on advertising in 2009, while Tide spent US$133.8 million, according to Kantar Media.


William Chameides, dean of the Nicholas School of the Environment at Duke University, said scientific studies about the safety of optical brighteners have tended to be “inconclusive,” generally finding no imminent danger to people or the environment, but calling for more studies to further assess risk.

On his blog, The Green Grok, Chameides occasionally examines ingredients in consumer products, writing recently about both formaldehyde, which is used as a treatment to make clothing wrinkle-free, and triclosan, which along with being an insecticide is added to toothpaste and other personal care and cleaning products for its antimicrobial properties.

“I’ve decided it’s worth it to me to expose myself to low levels of formaldehyde because in the job I have I need to have crisp shirts and I’m too lazy to iron,” Chameides said in an interview. “But there’s no way I’m going to brush my teeth with a toothpaste that has an insecticide in it.”

As for brighteners: “I don’t necessarily worry too much about optical brighteners, but I generally buy detergent like Seventh Generation because the stuff in them generally tends to be better for the environment,” Chameides said.

Convincing consumers to choose a detergent based on forgoing the additives may be a tall order.

“For the most part, people will relate to the fact that they have brighter colors and whiter whites as opposed to the fact that they have these optical brighteners,” Chameides said. “I don’t know what the decision process is for most people when they buy detergent, but I don’t think it’s a highly intellectual process.”

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