Raw materials that come from renewable sources such as trees and crops that can be grown year after year are intrinsically more sustainable than those that come from resources such as oil where resources are finite. So companies that sign the A.I.S.E. Charter for Sustainable Cleaning commit to looking for opportunities to use renewable raw materials where that can help improve the overall life-cycle profile of the product.
For decades now a major part of the raw materials that go into cleaning products have come from the fruits of trees like coconuts and palms, in the form of coconut and palm oil, and increasingly from a wider range of crops like sugar and rapeseed.
The problem is that those trees and crops need land to grow, and if we tried to switch to growing all the raw material there simply wouldn’t be enough land to do it on. For example, the parts of the world most suited to growing palms and coconuts, the tropical regions, are also home to precious rainforest. There is already concern that as demands for palm oil expand, only a minor percentage of which goes into cleaning products (most going for food), suppliers are trying to meet these demands unsustainably by clearing rainforest. We need more, truly sustainable plantations to be developed before use could be substantially expanded.
Despite the fact the whole world uses them every day, cleaning products currently consume only about 0.1% of crude oil production; less than 10% of all the world’s oil is turned into useful materials such as plastics or paint, fertilisers or pharmaceuticals; over 90% is simply burned as fuel.