I was lucky enough to escape with the family during half term for a weekend in the New Forest. As is usually my way when packing with children, I forgot something; this time a supply of Essential Care shower gel and shampoo. However, my eyes pricked up though when in our hotel (large chain, won't mention the name) I clapped eyes on some toiletries bearing the mark "EU Ecolabel" and the promise "gentle on you, kind to the environment".
Relief however, was only fleeting. The ingredients list began Aqua (water, fine), sodium laureth sulphate (err...*), cocamide MEA (bigger err...**), and a few more artificial bits later culminated in parfum - (artificial) fragrance*** judging from the intoxicating smell. I'd thought just the bottles were blue, but the contents also turned out to be a delicate shade of aquamarine. Artificial colour too then. I'd been out running so unfortunately had to use said noxious shower gel in order not to upset fellow diners, or children. It dried my hands to the state of sandpaper.
Intrigued, on my return I looked up exactly what the EU Ecolabel is all about. If you'd like to know more, here's what I found: http://ec.europa.eu/environment/ecolabel/eu-ecolabel-for-consumers.html. In sum, "The EU Ecolabel logo makes it simple to know that a product or a service is both environmentally friendly and good quality...To qualify for Ecolabel, products have to comply with a tough set of criteria...take the whole product life cycle into account – from the extraction of the raw materials, to production, packaging and transport, right through to your use and then your recycling bin."
I am still struggling to see how these particular products met such noble goals. Perhaps they have a particularly clean manufacturing process (although I can't quite imagine what). The packaging certainly wasn't anything special (not made from recycled materials for example) and it was a single use 30ml bottle rather than out of a dispenser, so would have created rather a lot of waste when multiplied up by number of guests, rooms, hotels etc. Perhaps it is transported by solar-powered lorry. Or a horse and cart.
"Gentle on" me it certainly wasn't and certainly no more so than the most synthetic shampoo you'd find in the supermarket. Recyclable plastic, well yes, but so are most bottles these days.
What on earth? This is green-washing as its very worst; launched and supported by the European Commission. This is the same Commission that doesn't see a need for a mandatory European organic standard for "organic" cosmetics. Of course the EcoLabel isn't meant to be an organic standard, but it's easily confused with one. I can also see the need to set achievable goals for this kind of standard, but really, the EU Ecolabel doesn't seem to be worth the pixels it occupies.
Rant over...for now.
*A detergent produced by an environmentally damaging process called ethoxylation.
**Not allowed under organic standards due to its potential risk as a carcinogen in combination with other ingredients.
***Widely acknowledged as the most frequent cause of skin sensitivity.
None of the above are allowed under organic standards such as those of the Soil Association.