De-mystifying ‘Green’ Jargon

22nd March 2019 | chemicals, green cleaning, greenwashing, safer alternatives

Scientist holding a flask with a green chemical in it

Most people find it confusing when they are presented with green chemistry terminologies. Unfortunately, there are companies that take advantage of this situation and falsely claim to provide environmentally-friendly products and services. They throw unsubstantiated jargons in with their marketing campaigns and purposely include false and misleading information, counting on the fact that their potential customers don’t really know what those terms mean.

The Australian Consumer Law, a national law that was established to protect consumers and ensure fair trading, states that any entity that wishes to make environmental claims about their business or product must be honest, accurate and be able to substantiate their claims.

Here at Envirofluid, we firmly believe that knowledge is power and in sharing facts so that our customers will know exactly what they are getting. We’ve compiled a list of relevant terminologies to help you better understand and differentiate between real green chemistries and greenwashing:

Bio-based Product

According to the USDA, bio-based products are “derived from plants and other renewable agricultural, marine, and forestry materials”.[i]

Biodegradable

Merriam-Webster defines the term ‘biodegradable’ as “capable of being broken down especially into innocuous products by the action of living things (microorganisms)”.[ii] Many products claim to be biodegradable; however, this term by itself is not indicative of an item’s eco-friendliness and can be misleading. It’s important to also determine:  

  1. What the item biodegrades into – What kind of substance does the product metabolise into?
  2. Whether it then remains toxic or non-toxic – Are there toxic residues left?
  3. How long the entire process takes – Does it take 30 days or 30 years (or more) for it to biodegrade?

When it comes to biodegradability, it is important to find out whether or not a product adheres to Australian Standard AS4351 of Ready Biodegradability or the equivalent international standards OECD 301A-301E and ISO 7827. This means that the substances will break down by 70 percent or more within 28 days.

Of equal importance is whether or not the whole product is readily biodegradable since companies are allowed to claim Ready Biodegradability compliance for just one ingredient, even if it makes up as little as 5 percent of the total.

Chlorinated Solvent

Chlorinated solvents are commonly used, particularly in brake cleaners; however, many of the main ingredients in these solvents are now banned for use in other applications. Whilst chlorinated atoms boost the solvent properties of the product, these chemicals are highly toxic. In fact, some of them are known carcinogens.

Corrosive

‘Corrosive’ substances have the capability to corrode materials they come into contact with. These chemicals, also referred to as ‘caustics’, are hazardous and can damage surfaces or living tissues. Some examples of corrosive substances include hydrochloric acid, sulphuric acid, sodium hydroxide, and lye.

Dangerous Goods

This term ‘dangerous goods’ refers to chemicals that can cause immediate damage to property and the environment. It can also cause serious injury or death to people and wildlife.

Heavy Metals

‘Heavy metals’ refer to naturally-occurring metals such as lead, copper, mercury, cadmium, arsenic, nickel, zinc, and chromium. These are toxic to humans and the environment and can bioaccumulate in organisms. Heavy metals end up in the environment through natural means and various human activities, such as mining, agriculture, and industrial effluents to name a few. Products that do not contain any of the above-mentioned materials are considered ‘heavy metal-free’.

Hydrocarbons

Hydrocarbons are organic compounds consisting of hydrogen and carbon. They are found in a variety of products, including cleaning agents. Many hydrocarbons are flammable, and some are carcinogenic.

Noncarcinogenic

The word ‘noncarcinogenic’ is used to describe substances or agents that are not a carcinogen or cancer-causing.

Non-Chlorinated Solvents

Non-chlorinated solvents do not contain chlorinated atoms, but this doesn’t automatically make it safe for humans or the environment. They are often composed of alternative chemicals which are just as toxic, such as Heptane or n-Hexane. These solvents are also flammable.

Non-toxic

‘Non-toxic’ is used to describe a product that is not toxic or poisonous.

Organic

Products are considered organic if they consist of or are made up entirely of living plants and animals.

Plant-Based Product

‘Plant-based’ pertains to materials that consist of or are made entirely of plants.

Phosphates

Phosphate can be found in the environment and is also a dietary requirement. However, too much phosphate in the body can cause health problems. In addition, the chemical can persist in wastewater and eventually make its way to waterways where it can promote harmful algal growth.

Quick Break Degreaser

Quick break degreasers are specially-formulated surfactants which lift oil, grease and other hydrocarbon soils from the surface without forming a permanent emulsion. Many quick break degreasing products claim to be eco-friendly and Worksafe; however, they often contain Butyl Cellosolve, which is a toxic agent.

Renewable Resources

Any resource that can be naturally grown or replenished in the course of time, such as plants, trees, animals, oxygen, and soil, among others, is known as a renewable resource. On the other hand, non-renewable resources are those that are in limited supply. Examples of non-renewable resources include petroleum, coal, and natural gas.

When choosing Worksafe and green products, it’s important not to take any claims made by companies at face value. Bookmark this blog post so you can refer to it when you come across any of the above-mentioned terms. Also, we recommend checking the SDS of the products in question to determine the veracity of their assertions.


[i] https://www.usda.gov/media/press-releases/2016/02/18/fact-sheet-overview-usdas-biopreferred-program

[ii] https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/biodegradable

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One response to “De-mystifying ‘Green’ Jargon”

  1. […] Educating yourself on the subject will help you to tell the difference between real Worksafe, eco-friendly products and those that are merely masquerading as such. Click here to learn more about how to understand green terminologies. […]

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