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What the Labels on Your Green Products Actually Mean

From the Show: Health Radio
Summary: Can a product that's labeled organic actually not be organic?
Air Date: 6/8/15
Duration: 10
Host: Melanie Cole, MS
Guest Bio: Lisa Beres, BBEI, CGBP
Lisa BeresLisa Beres is a healthy home expert, building biologist, published author, professional speaker and Telly Award Winning media personality who helps busy people eliminate toxins from their home with simple solutions to improve their health.

Lisa and her husband, Ron, are the founders of The Healthy Home Dream Team, and the creators of Change Your Home, Change Your Health in 30 Days. Lisa is also the author of the children's book My Body My House, and the duo are co-authors of Just GREEN It! Lisa and Ron's TV appearances include The Rachael Ray Show, Nightly News with Brian Williams, TODAY, The Doctors and Fox & Friends.
What the Labels on Your Green Products Actually Mean
With all the research surrounding the dangerous health hazards found in your household products, you might have heard people discussing the term "going green."

Green living follows a lifestyle that preserves Earth's natural resources. Green products have been surfacing on the market and have increased in popularity over the last few years.

However, can you really trust your green products' labels?

Unfortunately, many companies make false claims on their labels, indicating a product is green when it's actually the opposite.

Here are some of the most common terms you tend to trust on your green label... but should you?

  • Nontoxic
  • Natural (or All natural)
  • Eco-Friendly
  • Green
  • Biodegradable
  • Hypoallergenic
  • Chemical-free
  • Carbon-neutral
  • Sustainable

Listen in as Lisa Beres, BBEI, CGBP, shares how to properly look for green labels and what ingredients you should be watching out for in your green products.

RadioMD PresentsMelanie Cole's Health Radio | Original Air Date: June 8, 2015
Host: Melanie Cole, MS
Guest: Lisa Beres

This is Health Radio on RadioMD. Here’s Melanie Cole.

MELANIE: Can you assume that the environmental and health claims that you see on some of the products are true? Are the manufacturers being straight up with us? All of the research surrounding the dangers and health hazards found in your products – you might have heard people using that term “going green”. What does that even mean? When you are going to live a green lifestyle, how are you preserving the earth’s natural resources? If something says on it that it’s non-toxic or natural or eco-friendly, what do those even mean?
Well, we love to clear up label confusion here at RadioMD and my guest is Lisa Beres. She’s a healthy home expert and a building biologist. She helps busy people eliminate toxins from their home with simple solutions to improve their health.
Welcome to the show, Lisa. Tell us a little bit about some of these terms that we see on that green label – non-toxic, natural, green, biodegradable, hypoallergenic – there’s so many of them. Welcome to the show, Lisa. Tell us about some of them.

LISA: Thank you. Well it is absolutely overwhelming today as a consumer to go out shopping and pick up a bottle and to be able to trust that what you are seeing is true. I know everybody has felt like that at one time or another. It’s just information overload and we are kind of getting caught in this web of not knowing who to trust. So, I’m going to take you through some terms and explain to you what to look for so you can be a smarter and savvier shopper and protect your family and also make sure that your hard-earned dollars are actually going to do what they say – that the claims are actually true. Number one, non-toxic. That’s just a generic term. It’s not actually backed up by any governmental agency. So, if you see the word “non-toxic”, that could be good but unless you can find a third party, and this is going to be a reoccurring theme for all of these terms, you are really looking for third-party independent certifications. For any term that you see, you want to look on the back of the bottle and say, “Do I see a logo? Maybe USDA Organic?” Or, Green Seal is another one that you will find on cleaning products. The list goes on. There’s a lot of certifications. Leaping Bunny – have you ever seen that? It looks like a little bunny flying through the air.

MELANIE: I have. I didn’t know it was called “Leaping Bunny” but I love that.

LISA: Straight to the point. Leaping Bunny is great. Leaping Bunny--you will typically see that on personal care products and household products. That is a really good certifier because……

MELANIE: That means they are not testing bunny’s eyes and things like that, right?

LISA: Exactly. Animals in general, cruelty free. So, it’s basically an international organization made up of a conglomerate and they actually go out and audit these companies to make sure that the ingredients themselves have not been tested on animals and that the end product is cruelty free. So, that’s a great one. PETA – People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals--also has one that looks like big pink bunny ears and that’s a similar kind of competing label. It’s not as stringent. The Leaping Bunny is a better one. The other one kind of relies on the companies to tell them, “Yeah. We haven’t tested on animals,” and they have to sign a waiver. But I like Leaping Bunny because they really do go out and audit the companies to make sure. If you just see the words “cruelty free” or anything like that, it doesn’t mean anything. You really need that third party logo or certification.

MELANIE: Verification. One of the ones that I’m always interested in is biodegradable. Does that even mean that something is going to degrade in the landfills quickly or what?

LISA: That’s a great question. Biodegradable. Of course, with the green craze we see that everywhere now. The truth about that term is that that’s also really not regulated. There’s no regulatory body to say that product is, in fact, biodegradable. The word itself means that it’s going to break down with sunlight and out in the environment. Guess what? Everything will eventually break down. Even diapers which can take 1,000 years to biodegrade and plastic bottles which can take 500. They are going to biodegrade at some point. So, what we are really looking for is a product that will break down in a short period of time. You’ll actually find that on product labels where they will say, “This product biodegrades in 26 days or whatever. “ So, you are looking for that. Really, it’s common sense. Is plastic biodegradable? I mean, think about it. It’s a petroleum-based product, so unless it’s a plant-based plastic that’s made from corn or something like that, you are going to want to avoid plastic. If they are telling you it’s biodegradable, that could be a red flag. Common sense comes into play with a lot of this stuff.

MELANIE: I think it probably does. The one that I want to make sure that we cover – these are such short segments – is chemical-free. That just seems like a lot of crap to me. How can you say something is chemical-free when even an all-natural something can be called a chemical in one way or another?

LISA: Absolutely. Air, water--all made up of chemical components. So, chemical-free is meaningless, once again. Nothing on the planet is actually chemical-free. In some cases, especially when you are dealing with smaller companies, they might not really know and they are trying to tell you it’s chemical-free, but without a third party certifier, a claim can just be meaningless. We need that backed up for the consumer. With personal care products, manufacturers don’t have to list fragrance ingredients. They can actually hide hundreds and even up to 1,000 ingredients under that one word. When you get into household cleaning products, they are protected by their trade secrets. As a consumer, you can’t even always rely on the ingredients. You can’t just look at the ingredients. You really need transparency from the manufacturer. We want brands that are actually listing all the ingredients for you and that are going to that extra effort to tell you, “Yes, this is, in fact, what it says and here’s proof with our third party certifier.” If we have time, I can tell you about organic because that’s a big one.

MELANIE: Organic. I want to make sure we get through that one and hypoallergenic, too. That’s another one that kinds of gets me. We have about two minutes left.

LISA: Okay. I’ll talk fast. Organic is great with food and we all know that FDA adheres to the USDA’s (U.S. Department of Agriculture) standards with the NOP (The National Organic Program). How it works with personal care products – cosmetics and body care – is if the products have agricultural ingredients, they can actually adhere to the National Organic Standards. The little green logo that says USDA Organic-- that’s what you want to look for. You know you need to look for that in food but when it comes to personal care I’m going to tell you really quick what to look for. If it says 100% organic and has that logo, you are good to go. It’s golden. If the product contains 95% organic ingredients, they can use the word organic and they can also use the logo. If it’s made with 70% organic ingredients, they can’t actually use the logo but they can tell you in the text that it’s made with 70% organic ingredients. You’ll always see a certifier because the USDA requires a third-party certifier to assure that. You’ll always see that on the back of the label. If the product has less than 70% they can’t even use the word organic anywhere. They can’t use the logo. It’s really strict when it comes to personal care. So, just do your digging and make sure that you are looking for those.

MELANIE: It’s good that you point out what it is exactly that you are looking for. In just about a little less than 45 seconds, hit hypoallergenic if you would, Lisa and also your best advice for going green and reading these labels.

LISA: Hypoallergenic is not meaningful. It basically implies that the product will be less likely to cause allergic reactions but the FDA does not oversee that term. And, in fact, the same with fragrance-free. Fragrance-free can actually have more chemicals in it to cover up chemical smells and they can legally call the product fragrance-free and, of course, there are more allergic reactions from these chemicals. So, I would steer clear of anything that says that. It’s basically meaningless. As a general rule of thumb, your nose knows. If something is bothering your smell, it could be chemical components in there, synthetic toxins. There are great websites and if you visit our website at, we have a lot of information on what to look for. It can be confusing but just use your common sense when it comes to shopping smarter.

MELANIE: Absolutely great advice and what a great guest you are. You are listening to RadioMD right here on RadioMD.

This is Melanie Cole. Thanks for listening and stay well.