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How eco-friendly is your washing-up liquid?

By Patrick Gallagher

Do you want to make more eco-friendly purchasing choices? We asked leading washing-up liquid manufacturers to tell us about their products' recylability, sustainability and more

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It's no surprise that many consumers are concerned about the environmental impact of washing-up liquid, what with it being so widely used and it making its way into the water system.

While some products are explicitly branded as being 'eco', we know that this isn't always that convincing and it can be hard to find out what it actually means. 

To get a better idea of which products have the best eco credentials, we sent a questionnaire to the manufacturers of all the washing-up liquids we've recently tested and asked them to provide some clarity about the ingredients in their products, the recyclability of the packaging and the company's sustainability practices.

Not all the manufacturers responded, and some provided more information than others, but this guide will give you insight on some of the leading washing-up liquids available in stores.

If you want to see which washing-up liquids are the best we've tested, head straight to our washing-up liquid reviews.

Washing-up liquids and their environmental impact

Follow the links below to jump straight to specific detergents: 

This guide provides a starting point for making a more informed choice about the washing-up liquid you use, but it's worth keeping in mind that there are additional factors influencing how environmentally friendly or ethical these products are. 

We have only covered washing-up liquids from the leading manufacturers in the UK.

Aldi Magnum Original 

Packaging recyclable in UK? Yes
Packaging sourced from recycled materials? No
Refills available? No
Allergens? Yes – clearly labelled 
Tested on animals? No
Derived from crude oil/petrochemicals? Yes
All naturally derived ingredients? No
Suitable for septic tanks? Yes
Sustainability report? Yes
Regular supply chain checks? Yes

More on Aldi's sustainability

Recyclability

Aldi told us that all the packaging for its Magnum Original washing-up liquid is recyclable in the UK. The bottle is PET plastic and the label is paper, both of which are widely recycled. The cap is made of PP (polypropylene) plastic, which is also widely recyclable, although not to the same extent as PET. 

Not all local authorities have the same processing facilities, so if you're in doubt it's worth checking with your council to find out what types of plastic it accepts.

Allergens

Aldi pointed out two allergens in its washing-up liquid: a common preservative called methylisothiazolinone (MIT) and a fragrance allergen called geraniol. These are clearly labelled on the packaging.

Animal testing

Our survey asked whether any of the constituent ingredients in the product had been tested on animals. Aldi replied: 'No. All of Aldi’s own-label household and beauty products are certified by Cruelty Free International.'

Find out more

To find out more about Aldi's approach to the environment, among other issues, you can read its Aldi South International Corporate Responsibility Report 2017. It's an international report covering 11 countries, but Aldi says the UK forms an integral part of it.

Ecover Zero and Ecover Lemon and Aloe Vera 

Packaging recyclable in UK? Yes
Packaging sourced from recycled materials?

Bottles – 100% post-consumer recycled material

Caps – not from recycled material

Refills available? Yes
Allergens?

Lemon and Aloe Vera – yes, clearly labelled

Zero – no allergens

Tested on animals? No 
Derived from crude oil/petrochemicals? No
All naturally derived ingredients? No – some synthetics
Suitable for septic tanks? Yes
Sustainability report? No
Regular supply chain checks? Yes

More on Ecover's sustainability

Recyclability

All Ecover's washing-up liquid bottles are made from 100% post-consumer recycled PET plastic, which is widely recyclable.

The caps are made of PP (polypropylene) plastic, which is also widely recyclable, although not to the same extent as PET. 

Not all local authorities have the same processing facilities, so if you're in doubt it's worth checking with your council to find out what types of plastic it accepts.

Ecover also said that it provides 'clear and consistent recycling guidance on [its] packaging labels, enabling the consumer to recycle each packaging component correctly.'

In November 2018 Ecover trialled caps made with 50% recycled PP, and it's 'planning to introduce this on a permanent basis on washing-up liquid bottles later in 2019'.

You can also reduce your plastic waste by taking your empty bottles to an Ecover refill point, which can be found in many health food retailers across the UK. Alternatively, you can order a five-litre container from the online Ecover store and refill at home.

According to Ecover, it develops products 'with the entire lifecycle in mind, including the biodegradability of [its] formulas and the recyclability of [its] packaging'.

Ingredients

Surfactants, which remove fat and grease, are the main active agents in any washing-up liquid. Ecover's surfactants come from vegetable oils, as opposed to the petrochemical oils used in most washing-up liquids. Ecover told us that it 'champions ingredients that come from renewable, plant-based ingredients rather than petrochemical sources'. 

However, it also said that where there are no alternatives, it uses minimal amounts of petrochemical-based ingredients. It added that it 'ensures that they have a low aquatic toxicity, to minimise their impact on aquatic life, and that they biodegrade and are not persistent chemicals that can build up in the environment over time'.

At least 50% of Ecover's fragrance ingredients come from naturally derived sources, but some are synthetic. It claims to rigorously assess each ingredient on environmental and health criteria and only use ingredients, including synthetic ones, that biodegrade and have minimal impact on aquatic life.

Allergens

Ecover's Zero washing-up liquid has been approved by Allergy UK. It contains 0% fragrance and 0% colourants, so the risk of having an allergic reaction to one of its ingredients is reduced.

The Lemon and Aloe Vera liquid has one allergen, limonene, which gives it its citrus smell. As required, this is clearly labelled on the bottle.

Animal testing

In response to this question in our survey, Ecover answered: 'We are a Leaping Bunny-certified company. This international certification assures that no animal testing is done at any stage of product development. We do not test our products or constituent ingredients on animals.'

Find out more

Ecover follows its own ‘Benefit Blueprint’ to help further its sustainability goals. It also measures progress and aims to reduce its impact across five metrics: an internal sustainability measure called the compass score, which assesses the individual impact of each product on human and environmental health, ingredient sourcing and packaging; carbon footprint; water usage; waste footprint (it currently diverts 96% of its waste into recycling and composting) and a 'B Corp' score. You can read more here.

Plus, it regularly checks its suppliers through independent certification schemes, and collaborates with them to improve their sustainability credentials, like reducing water use or transportation distances. 

Its strict Supplier Code of Conduct includes:

• Providing a healthy and safe workplace for employees

• Disposing of waste in an environmentally friendly way

• Fair, non-discriminatory employment practices

• No child labour

• No animal testing or commissioning of animal testing on Ecover's behalf

• Submitting environmental data for Ecover to assess.

Fairy Original and Fairy Platinum 

Packaging recyclable in UK? Yes 
Packaging sourced from recycled materials? Fairy Original bottle made of up to 50% recycled materials
Refills available? No
Allergens? Yes
Tested on animals? No
Derived from crude oil/petrochemicals? Yes
All naturally derived ingredients? No
Suitable for septic tanks? Yes
Sustainability report? Yes
Regular supply chain checks? Yes

More on Fairy's sustainability

Recyclability

Fairy Original bottles are made of transparent PET plastic, which is widely recycled in the UK.

Fairy Platinum bottles are made of coloured PET. It's technically recyclable, but whether it’s recyclable in your local community depends on the sorting/recycling stream for coloured PET.

The caps are made of PP (polypropylene) plastic. Like coloured PET, it is technically recyclable but is not as commonly processed. Not all local authorities have the same processing facilities. If you're in doubt, check with your council to find out what types of plastic it accepts.

P&G, which produces Fairy, said its Original bottles are 'made with up to 50% recycled materials'. It said it plans to increase its use of post-consumer recycled materials in the next 12 months.

Although Fairy washing-up liquids can't be refilled in stores, you can buy a large 1.5-litre bottle to try to reduce the amount of plastic you use.

Allergens

According to P&G, Fairy products contain the allergen methylisothiazolinone (MIT) at the lowest possible level. Its fragrances may contain certain perfume allergens, but these are labelled on each product in accordance with EU legislation.

Animal testing

P&G told us that Fairy products have not been tested on animals. 

It said: 'We do not test our products or ingredients on animals anywhere in the world, unless required by law. At P&G, we believe that eliminating animal testing is the right thing to do. At the same time, ensuring the safety of people who use our products, and the safety of the world we all live in, is at the heart of P&G activities. Therefore, P&G scientists are fully engaged to develop reliable and predictive in vitro toxicology tests.' 

In vitro tests are those done on cultured cells outside their normal biological environment, usually with lab equipment such as test tubes or Petri dishes.

Find out more

Read about P&G's work on sustainability in its P&G Northern Europe Citizenship report.

Tesco Eco Active 

Packaging recyclable in UK? Yes
Packaging sourced from recycled materials? 45% recycled content
Refills available? No
Allergens? Yes
Tested on animals? No
Derived from crude oil/petrochemicals? No
All naturally derived ingredients? No – some synthetics
Suitable for septic tanks? Yes
UK-specific annual sustainability report? Yes
Regular supply chain checks? Yes

More on Tesco Eco Active's sustainability

Recyclability

Tesco says its Eco Active bottle is made from 45% recycled content. It's made of PET plastic, which is widely recyclable in the UK. The pump cap is made from polypropylene plastic (PP), which is technically recyclable in the UK but is not as commonly processed. Not all local authorities have the same facilities, so if you're in doubt, check with your council to find out what types of plastic it accepts.

Allergens

In our survey, we asked Tesco if Eco Active washing-up liquid contains any known allergens, and it said that it doesn't. But a look at the ingredients list on the bottle shows that it does actually contain the known allergen methylisothiazolinone (MIT), plus some unspecified perfumes.

Animal testing

Tesco said: 'We do not support testing on animals for cosmetic or household products and do not carry out or commission such tests on our own-brand products or the ingredients they contain.'

Manufacturing site information

Tesco explained that its manufacturing supplier is audited by AISE (International Association for Soaps, Detergents and Maintenance Products) and complies with the AISE Charter.

Tesco said the factory that produces its Eco Active washing-up liquid recycles all materials: 'From the plastic waste, metal waste, cardboard and liquids, everything is processed to be used again. Most plastics and liquids are recycled within the same factory to be used again. The remaining liquid waste, together with plastic, metal and cardboard are recycled by third-party recyclers.'

Tesco also noted that 'every year the factory reports detailed information to AISE on a wide range of indicators regarding the consumption of water, energy, packaging and raw materials and the production of CO2 and waste'.

Find out more

You can learn more about Tesco's overall approach to the environment in the Tesco sustainability report.

Tesco's Eco Active washing-up liquid is independently EU Ecolabel-certified. You can find more information about EU Ecolabel certification here.

Waitrose Ecological 

Packaging recyclable in UK?

Bottle – yes

Cap – not currently

Packaging sourced from recycled materials?

Bottle – 70% recycled material

Caps –  not from recycled material

Refills available? No
Allergens? Yes
Tested on animals? No
Derived from crude oil/petrochemicals? No
All naturally derived ingredients? No – some synthetics
Suitable for septic tanks? Yes
Sustainability report? Yes
Regular supply chain checks? Yes

More on Waitrose Ecological's sustainability

Recyclability

The bottle is made from full recyclable PET plastic and 70% of it has been sourced from recycled materials. The cap is currently made of black PP plastic, which is not currently widely recyclable. Waitrose told us that it has 'committed to replacing all black plastic on own-label ranges by the end of 2019, so these will be changed'.

Allergens

In our survey, we asked Waitrose if its Ecological washing-up liquid contains any known allergens, and it said that it doesn't. However, the ingredients list on the bottle shows that it does contain the allergen limonene.

Find out more
You can find out more about Waitrose's overall approach to sustainable practices by reading the John Lewis CR report 2017/18. The newest report is due to be published on 25 April 2019.

Waitrose Essential 

Packaging recyclable in UK? Yes
Packaging sourced from recycled materials? No
Refills available? No
Allergens? Yes – clearly labelled
Tested on animals? No
Derived from crude oil/petrochemicals? Yes
All naturally derived ingredients? No
Suitable for septic tanks? Yes
Sustainability report? Yes
Regular supply chain checks? Yes

More on Waitrose Essential's sustainability

Recyclability

Waitrose told us that all the packaging for its Essential washing-up liquid is recyclable in the UK. The bottle is PET plastic, which is widely recycled. The cap and label are made of PP (polypropylene) plastic, which is technically recyclable but is not as commonly processed, so it's worth checking if it's recycled near you.

Allergens

In response to our survey, Waitrose highlighted three allergens in this product: citronellol, hexyl cinnamal and limonene. These are clearly labelled as allergens on the bottle. Waitrose Essential washing-up liquid also contains methylisothiazolinone (MIT).

Find out more

You can find out more about Waitrose's overall approach to sustainable practices by reading the John Lewis CR report 2017/18. The newest report is due to be published on 25 April 2019.

Washing-up liquid reviews

Now that you know more about these brands' eco-credentials, head to our washing-up liquid reviews to find out how they performed in our independent lab tests.

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