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OPINION

How clean are your hand hygiene products?

E By Deepali Ghadge

Our current situation has brought hand hygiene and its links to human health front of mind. However, individuals and organisations must choose products that are a better choice for human health, the environment and our community.

52 INCLEAN May / June 2020

ven before this recent disturbing outbreak of COVID-19, the world’s medical experts have always promoted hand hygiene as a must for good health. We have been taught from a young age that washing our hands can prevent the transmission of germs. We use liquid handwash, soaps and sanitisers before cooking and eating, after using the restrooms or when we have been in contact with someone who is ill. A study from the University of Michigan’s School of Public Health concluded that applying proper hand hygiene reduced 31 per cent of gastrointestinal and 21 per cent of respiratory illnesses. However, the soaps, handwash liquids and sanitisers used to combat germs can be full of harmful chemicals which could be carcinogenic, cause genetic mutations or affect the reproductive system. These effects can occur with long-term use of products made with these harmful substances. Every soap and soap product manufactured using the saponification process needs to be registered with the National Industrial Chemicals Notification and Assessment Scheme (NICNAS) in Australia, which makes sure prohibited and restricted chemicals rules are followed. But is this enough to be sure your product is healthy for people and the planet? For example, phosphorus is not listed as a prohibited or restricted chemical. If the phosphorus in a soap product enters waterways without proper treatment, then it can combine with nitrogen and support the growth of algae on the water’s surface.

This decreases oxygen levels, contaminating the water and endangering aquatic life. Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) on the other hand, like terpenes, can also be mixed into products for fragrance. VOCs can trigger health issues such as asthma, allergies and headaches. Thankfully it is possible to confidently choose a hand hygiene product which not only does what it says it will do but also has proven to be better for the environment, human health and social impacts such as workers’ rights. This is where an eco-labelled product comes to the rescue! Ecolabels build trust, protect against greenwash, and stand up for superior sustainability performance through independent, third-party certification. At GECA, we certify handwash, soaps and hand sanitisers under our Personal Care Products standard. To become certified against this standard, products must prove that they have no hazardous substances, no phosphorus compounds and limited VOCs. Any palm oil must come from a sustainably managed plantation and good waste management practices must be in place. On top of this, all organic ingredients must be readily biodegradable. Workers must also be receiving fair pay, equal opportunity, and a safe working environment. Our current situation has brought hand hygiene and its links to human health front of mind. However, individuals and organisations must choose products that are a better choice for human health, the environment and our community. Deepali Ghadge is standards and technical officer at Good Environmental Choice Australia (GECA). ■

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INCLEAN May-June 2020  

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