Saturday, October 21, 2006

According to my calculations...



I was shopping for dishwashing liquid the last week and they didn't have the size and type I wanted, so my eye wandered over to some other brands. I noticed one that claimed to be environment-friendly, so I picked it up and took a look at it's back label. I was immediately sucked in... "blah blah, blah-blah-blah! Blah blah... we could save 81,000 barrels of oil... blah blah - blah..." As you may surmise, my critical thinking skills were on sabbatical at that moment. My interpretation of the claim was that by using this vegetable based detergent I would save the world a significant amount of oil. I plopped a bottle in my basket and didn't think to examine their claims more carefully until just last night.

What the label actually says is: "If every household in the U.S. replaced just one bottle of 25 oz. petroleum based dishwashing liquid with our 25 oz. vegetable based product, we could save 81,000 barrels of oil, enough to heat and cool 4,600 U.S. homes for a year!" Hmmm... so how many households are there? And what will my purchase of one bottle do?

The U.S. Census estimated that there would be approximately 110,000,000 households in the U.S. in 2006. So the bottle I bought (taking their claim at face value for the moment) will save .000736 of a barrel of oil.

But how big is a barrel of oil and how does that equate to something I can understand - like gasoline? A barrel of oil has 42 gallons of crude oil which translates to 19.5 gallons of gasoline. So the claim would be that by using this bottle of dishwashing liquid instead of a petroleum based product, I could save .0144 of a gallon of gasoline. I think my car averages about 20 miles per gallon, so using one bottle of this product is about the same as not driving .287 of a mile, or about 505 yards (five football fields). Not quite as impressive, huh?

The thing is, this product is more watery than the product I usually use. I doubt one bottle of this vegetable based detergent will last as long as my regular brand, which ultimately means more packaging. Plastic packing. Petroleum based - right? In all fairness, the packaging for the vegetable based product "contains a min. 25% post-consumer plastic", but still... I'm switching back.

6 comments:

Leigh said...

This is interesting and something I've contemplated since so many products we use are petroleum based; detergents, plastics, cosmetics, etc. It puts a whole new meaning on the concept of being petroleum dependant.

Cathy said...

Hi Leigh - it is interesting and something I should be more mindful of. What I'm not clear on is if the detergent is made from a part of the oil that is not used for fuel. I think it may be - this page has an interesting graphic showing the products made from a barrel of oil.

Alice said...

Well, gee, nothing is ever as good as it sounds, huh? I'm impressed that you went to the lengths to figure it all out. At least you tried something new...if nothing else, it makes the world more exciting for a little while. :)

Cathy said...

Hi Alice! Too true - I've got to learn to be less gullible too! I'm glad I tried it - I don't think I would have every looked into their claim otherwise, and that was interesting and worthwhile.

Anonymous said...

about saving the oil by using the veg. base dish soap... I live in a midwest farming community & raising corn is a huge gasoline burning business, you plant, irrigate (water is pumped by gas engines) Pick, hawl, dry, process into & transport to your kitchen....so your margin is even smaller if not even into the negative.... but at least it is a renewable resorse unless we run out of gas to do the corn planting.....

Cathy said...

Hi Anon - that's fascinating, I never thought to consider that angle. Makes you wonder - it is really a renewable resource?