September 5, 2008

Dawn Dish Detergent “Saves Wildlife” But Also Raises Some Questions.

I just moved into a new apartment, and noticed that the previous tenant left a bottle of Dawn dish detergent in the kitchen. The smell of Dawn always reminds me of summers of my youth. Starting at age 14, every summer I worked at a boarding kennel for dogs, and one of my main responsibilities was to bathe the dogs. We used watered-down Dawn. Now I’m crazy about dogs, but still the smell of Dawn still makes my back hurt as that was seriously hard work sudsing up pooch after pooch!

I had thought we used Dawn as it was less expensive than pet shampoo. While this may be the case, it is apparently also cleans well while being sensitive to the animals. In the late 1970’s, the International Bird Rescue Research Center tested several brands on the market and chose Dawn to remove oil from birds’ feathers after oil spills. In the mid-1980’s, Dawn’s creator, Proctor & Gamble, began to donate bottles of Dawn to the organization, most notably for use in the clean up of 1989’s Exxon Valdez oil spill.

The bottle sitting in my new apartment has the familiar blue color, but I noticed something new, the words “rescuing wildlife for over 25 years” and an image of a duck.

With some research I found some interesting things. The bottle is a special edition to go along with Dawn’s “Make a Difference” Campaign, which is helping to spread the word about the 29 million gallons of oil that contaminates North American waterways each year. The campaign isn’t simply about publicizing the use of Dawn in helping save the lives of birds in oil spills (although that is definitely a part), but also oil contamination that happens every day often through improper disposal of oils.

The site is slick (yes, pun intended). It also includes videos of aquatic animal rehabilitation and Ellen Degeneres-backed press releases.

But here is what I find tricky: Dawn’s parent company, Proctor & Gambles conducts animal testing. And isn’t Dawn a petroleum-based product? And to go even further, Dawn apparently contains a chemical called Tricoslan, which according to the Environmental Working Group is toxic to some aquatic wildlife.

Some are calling the campaign green-washing, but for me it’s just a reminder to not always take things at face value.  Helping save birds’ lives is of course a good thing which is why I hate to just quickly dismiss this as green-washing. Although I admit after some digging, I found some seriously contradictory and disheartening facts. For now I’m replacing the bottle with my usual, Seventh Generation Dishwashing Liquid in Lemongrass & Clementine Zest, a scent I love, and their new bottle states: “You have the right to know, learn about ingredients on our new back label.” Nice.


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