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International conference: how eco should detergents be?

by Kai Kreuzer (comments: 0)

Amarjit Sahota from Organic Monitor opened the conference. Photo Kai Kreuzer

All participants in the Sustainable Cleaning Products Summit in Paris were in agreement that detergents and cleaners as well as toiletries should be made greener, more natural and more ecological. However, there was no agreement about how to achieve this goal and about a precise definition of what “green” home-care products really are. For example, is it permissible for eco products to contain palm oil or genetically modified enzymes?

The first conference on eco detergents and home-care cleaning products, that was organised by the London-based specialist research & consulting firm Organic Monitor, provided the opportunity for discussion of these issues. Around 80 participants from many countries and all continents were present to consider the status quo and think about future development.  

Interview with Amarjit Sahota, Organic Monitor

Interested audience at the first Sustainable Cleaning Products Summit in Paris. Photo Kai Kreuzer

The two-day event was held on 20 and 21 October 2015 in the prestigious Marriott Hotel on the Champs Elysées not far from the Arc de Triomphe. While it was pandemonium on the grand boulevard outside, in the seminar room in the basement of the hotel minds were focused on work. Manufacturers of detergents came to talk about the progress they had made in product development, to compare themselves with other companies and to think about where the industry would go in the future.

These companies included not only global corporations like Dupont, Clariant and Procter & Gamble but also well-known firms like Frosch (Werner & Mertz) and manufacturers of natural products like Ecover, Etamine du Lys and Sodasan (see our earlier reports on the last three enterprises).

Various organisations and companies gave interesting lectures that created the basis for discussion on the day devoted to seminars and the linked workshops. As well as the representatives of manufacturers, in attendance were also suppliers of raw materials. They included organic farmers and farmer groups who were interested in the discussion and wanted to find out about possible demand for raw materials in the future. Also present were the consultant Tom Harding on behalf of organic farmers in the USA and Nimal Punyasiri from Sri Lanka, who works for Nature`s Secret, a label that grows and markets medicinal plants.

Lunch break with time for networking. Photo Kai Kreuzer

Since the legal stipulations from Brussels are slowly but surely becoming more stringent, the leader of the environmental impacts workshop, Xavier Vital, urged people to engage with developments at this early stage. "The requirements laid down for the EU will sooner or later also be implemented in the USA and China – or at least in California," he said with a wink. Either way, it is in the interest of most firms not to wait to take on board trends, tendencies and the demands of consumers and politicians if they don’t want to be left behind and risk being forced out of the market.

The use of palm oil is one of the important criteria differentiating manufacturers of detergents and cleaners. “This is where opinions are still divided. It has been a controversial issue at our conferences on natural and organic cosmetics for years.” So far, unfortunately, without result. While some insist on "sustainably" produced palm oil in compliance with the criteria of RSPO, others totally dismiss palm oil as a major contributor to the destruction of forests.

Aurélien Rouillard from Ecocert presenting the criteria. Photo Kai Kreuzer

Sahota: Substantial increase in demand needed

“The market for eco detergents and household cleaners in Europe is worth about €316m (2013) and is growing at 8 % a year,” stated Amarjit Sahota, the Managing Director of Organic Monitor, in his opening address. The biggest markets are in France, Great Britain, the Benelux countries and Germany. This is less than 1 % of the total annual turnover of approximately €35bn for detergents and cleaning materials sector in Europe.

Eco cleaning products are sold in the specialist trade, supermarkets and drugstores. Especially prominent in the promotion of these sustainable natural products are the Coop chain in Italy, and in Switzerland under the label Coop Naturaplan. He said that, although the market for organic detergents and cleaners lags way behind the demand for organic food, he is convinced that consumers will in the future think about them in the same way and consequently this will increase demand substantially. He regards the lack of consumer information as the main stumbling block.

He added that the current pseudo-ecological product ranges of retailers like Migros and Tesco are another problem because they confuse customers. The way to clarify the situation in these cases is proper certification like that of Ecocert, EcoGarantie and ICEA. The audience and the speakers on the platform were all agreed that the EU flower as an indicator of environmentally friendly products does not help to produce market transparency - it only indicates that detergents and cleaners are degradable and says nothing about the raw materials and ingredients not being harmful. This was the view of Anne Cabotin from the fragrances and aromas manufacturer Symrise

For Sahota, in the longer term, the question arises of unified legally binding regulations specifically for ecological detergents and home-care products at European level in order to protect manufacturers and consumers from misleading statements and to stipulate the correct requirements in terms of production that is not harmful to health and is sustainable.

Tom Domen from Ecover

The use of petrochemical products and palm oil highly contentious

Tom Domen from Ecover regretted the widespread “chemophobia” that is on the increase. He said that abandoning the use of chemicals makes no sense because the way cleaning materials work is always chemical. “The question I prefer to ask is whether they are plant-based and how they degrade.” Another problem is the packaging cycle. He conceded: “No manufacturer has come up with a real solution.”

However, the frequency of washing has great money saving potential: “There’s a saving of 77 %, if, instead of washing my trousers every two or three days as I do now, I wear them for ten days before they go into the wash.” In general, people wash and disinfect things far too much. As a rule, disinfecting only makes sense for hospitals. He advised consumers to put a stop to the “war against your own micro-flora.” Regarding the contentious issue of petrochemical raw materials, he said this about the policy of the biggest manufacturer of detergents in the eco sector: “We still use them on a small scale, but by 2018 we will convert totally to plant-based raw materials. 

Timothy Glaz from Werner & Mertz. Photo Kai Kreuzer

Timothy Glaz, representing the very well known Frosch brand in Germany (Fa. Werner & Mertz), made it clear at the beginning of his presentation that the manufacturer in Mainz did not think much of palm oil in general and the RSPO logo in particular. Fire clearance of primary forest was the consequence of strongly rising demand for palm oil.

Campaigns like those of “Rettet den Regenwald e.V.” have made people much more aware in the industrial countries that purchase palm oil. He explained that it is why the products in the Frosch brand are manufactured using European oils like rape oil and olive oil. He pointed out that at Werner & Mertz they have solved the problem of packaging since 2008 by the input of more and more used bottles – now up to 80 %, with the other 20 % produced from recycled PET flakes collected via the yellow sack system. In 2014 alone, the company was awarded three environment prizes for this development of sustainable packaging.

Jürgen Hack in conversation with expert Judi Beerling, on right. Photo Kai Kreuzer

Discussion about enzymes

According to a study by the German-French consultancy Ekozept ,Etamine du Lys, a brand of the French manufacturer Alvend, is the leading eco-sector company in the detergent and cleaner segment regarding ethical criteria, effectiveness and innovation.

Marie Chupin, who introduced the company domiciled near Nantes, also pointed to the problems associated with certification. Her plea directed at Ecocert concerns the number of raw materials that are permitted. She said there are too few, which imposed a considerable limit on flexibility.Moreover, certification costs have to be reduced as a matter of urgency.In any case, petrochemical raw materials, phosphates, ammonium, glycol ether, sodium perborate, formaldehyde, optical brighteners and chlorine bleaching agents are excluded from ecological production.

In his presentation, Mark Stalmans from Procter & Gamble reported on the latest development of enzymes in their effort to further reduce washing temperature and to achieve good results at temperatures below 30 °C. Whereas in the past the use of enzymes was regarded as harmless, there is now some criticism because genetic engineering methods are being employed.

Ecover has therefore come to the conclusion that that they should offer products without enzymes for the specialist trade, although they sell – in the view of Tom Domen – the more effective products with enzymes in the conventional retail food trade. The Innovation Manager at Ecover assured us that the products with enzymes do not have a damaging impact on the environment.

16 mostly very interesting lectures, presentations and workshops were offered during the two-day event. Although the conferences of Organic Monitor cost in excess of €1000 Euro for a two day event – always in top locations – the participants were across the board satisfied with the content and the results of discussions. For the already mentioned participant from Sri Lanka attendance also at the Sustainable Cosmetics Summit made the long journey well worthwhile. Other participants too, like Ana-Lucia Vàsquez from the Frauenhofer Institut in Stuttgart, found the conference of great interest.

Jürgen Hack, Managing Directo of Sodasan:

“I find the international conferences of Organic Monitor very beneficial because they are an opportunity for many actors in the sector to come together and talk to each other and to reveal the very different approaches they have to sustainability. This platform offers opportunities for dialogue beyond the borders of our own countries and our sphere of activity. For this reason, I welcome the fact that Amarjit Sahota and his team have made detergents and cleaning products a regular conference theme.”


Conference Homepage:

Report: The European Market for green HOME Cleaning Products, Dec. 2015:

Ecocert detergent and cleaning material standards

Ecogarantie detergent and cleaning material standards:

ICEA Natural cosmetics and detergent standards:



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