We noticed something strange in detergent labelling today. None of the detergent brands available in the local supermarket declare the ingredients or at least the key ingredients.
This is in stark contrast to other categories like food or skin care where every single ingredient, however minor, must be declared.
The packaging rules* stipulate that odd pack sizes like 175 gm or 390 gm be declared as non-standard sizes. This additional declaration as a non-standard size comes in really fine print & in my opinion not very useful for the consumer to make a better decision.
On the other hand, knowing the exact list of ingredients is certainly useful to consumers. Take phosphates for instance.
Why does my detergent have phosphates?
Phosphates were originally added to detergents to wash effectively in hard water. The most common phosphate used in detergents is sodium tripolyphosphate (STPP).
Phosphates from the detergent eventually find their way via the sewage system into the nearby water bodies. Excessive phosphates released into water bodies are a leading cause of eutrophication. Eutrophication causes an algal bloom on the surface of water bodies – you would have seen it in contaminated lakes and ponds where the surface of the lake is unusually green in colour due to algae. This algal bloom kills off the aquatic animals in the water body as all the oxygen is used up by the algae. The water body in time becomes a dead zone with no life, and unusable water.
What is the phosphate % in Indian Detergents?
The anti-phosphate debate reached a flash point in the U.S. in the early 70’s, leading to a voluntary reduction of phosphates by the detergent industry. Soon many local municipalities banned phosphates entirely fearing further eutrophication of their water bodies.
Canada in 2010 passed regulations that limit phosphates to just 0.5% by weight in detergents.
However in India, in the absence of stringent regulations, detergent brands do not reveal their phosphate percentage. It is estimated that phosphates could be as high as 30 -50 % in Indian detergents, perilously high levels.
We came across this concept while reading Daniel Goleman’s Ecological Intelligence*, and it sparked off some interesting debates at Krya.
Radical transparency says that when given generous amounts of information, consumers use it to make the right choices, both for themselves and the environment. Goleman postulates that in the time to come, radical transparency will be the key to higher market shares and profits for companies as they empower consumers to consume responsibly.
We’ve seen a live example of radical transparency at our local organic store. The cost of our produce there is usually more expensive than the supermarket. But over time we’ve been educated on how it is cheaper in the long term because the produce is fresher, better tasting & healthier.
Our organic store retailer is open to discussing his produce, how they are grown, and where they come from. We’ve called him at odd hours to quiz him on his cashews and discuss the effects of endosulfan, and he’s always shared everything he knows on the topic.
We reward his radical transparency by buying more and more from him. We wait patiently if he is out of stock, and work really hard (even changing our schedules) to make sure we meet his order deadlines, and pick up our produce.
Companies who practice radical transparency, will also be rewarded by generous consumers.
We would like to see radical transparency in more products, especially detergents.
We would like companies to trust us with information and tell us what they put into products.
We think that if they do, we can tell them what we want, and together we can make better products.
For the lakes. For the fishes. For us. For everyone.
*Rules here refer to the Standards of Weights & Measures (Packaged Commodities) Rules, 1977
**Ecological Intelligence by Daniel Goleman loaned to us by our cousin, Arvind