Control your chemicals

Feature story - 17 May, 2004
If you don't want to buy products containing toxic chemicals, how do you avoid them? Can you assume companies don't put toxic chemicals in their products? Unfortunately many large companies would rather keep secrets than inform consumers. Can you check the label? Nope, little or no information there. Can you rely on current laws and regulations? Bad luck - there's currently little protection on offer. So what can you do?

Greenpeace's Chemical House database helps consumers select less toxic alternatives

We reckon that if you want something done right, you have to do it yourself. That's why we are producing "red and green" lists of consumer products based on their toxic content, the amount of information the company is willing to provide, and how much the company is prepared to do to remedy the situation.

Make a new non-toxic shopping list

Our "red and green" list covers products sold in Europe and by many global multinational companies. When you go out shopping you can now go armed with the information you need to make informed choices.

Browse the Chemical House and find out what exactly is lurking in your home

You might be surprised at how many products you use each and every day contain dangerous chemicals. But now you can use consumer power to pressure companies into cleaning up their act.

"We ... want to encourage manufacturers to step up their efforts to phase out hazardous substances and give consumers a wider choice of greener products," says Iza Kruszewska, Greenpeace International toxics campaigner.

By exposing the companies that use hazardous chemicals, and showing which of their competitors are making efforts to eliminate or replace these nasties, we aim to inform consumers about the true contents of products. In April, we released the results of laboratory tests conducted on Disney children's wear, which found harmful substances present in some Disney pyjamas, T-shirts and underwear. Despite global pressure on Disney, they have not responded with a policy to phase out harmful chemicals.

Mickey on the dock in Brussels

So today, Greenpeace's very own toxic Mickey Mouse, redubbed "CheMickey", appeared in Brussels to await his fate. He's been locked in the stocks and put on trial outside the European Union Competitiveness Council where EU ministers are meeting to discuss the proposed reform of Europe's chemicals policy (REACH). Chemickey will be straddling one barrel containing consumer products known to contain harmful chemicals, and another containing non-toxic safer alternatives. The decision on whether CheMickey will be released from his toxic burden lies in the hands of Industry and Economy Ministers, represented by the characters of Chirac, Blair and Schröder.

The pressure on companies by Greenpeace to substitute hazardous chemicals is already bearing (organic) fruit. Last week, UK retailer the Co-op announced that it was banning a range of toxic chemicals still permitted for use in everyday products like washing-up liquid and household cleaners, as part of a new ethical drive.

What you can do right now

Take a tour of the Chemical Home and update your shopping list with toxic-free alternatives

Tell Disney to stop using toxic chemicals in its childrenswear

Tell your local MP to strengthen chemical legislation (in Europe)

Find out how your MEP will vote on EU chemical laws

Read the Greenpeace consumer products briefing