Green Product Fail

Environment, Politics, Technology

Green products may be better for the environment, but that doesn’t mean they work. Thanks to increasing government oversight and popular demand, products with an “organic” or “eco-friendly” sticker attached are likely to sell — even if they are virtually ineffective.

Phosphate-Free Detergent

algae bloom
Algae Bloom

Say goodbye to shiny, bright glassware; grungy is the new clear.

That’s because this summer, 16 states banned the sale of dishwashing detergents containing more than .5% phosphorous, in an effort to protect lakes and streams. Experts say phosphorous can cause algae blooms and kill fish.

Unfortunately for consumers, dishwasher detergents with little or no phosphorous don’t work very well, especially in places with hard water. (Phosphates work by binding with minerals and making them slippery so they won’t stick to surfaces and cause spots.)

In fact, last year, Consumer Reports found that detergents without phosphates performed worse than every other detergent on the market.

No wonder folks have started smuggling phosphate detergents across state lines.

Low-Flow Showerheads

showerheadIn a classic Seinfeld episode from 1996, Kramer and Newman, unable to deal with weak showers, buy black-market showerheads from the back of a van. This was on the heels of a real federal law passed in 1992  that limits the amount of water that can pass through a nozzle to 2.5 gallons per minute.

Customers who were willing to pay extra still had a choice because of a loophole that allowed manufacturers to construct showerheads with multiple nozzles. But in May, the Department of Energy redefined “showerhead” to take every nozzle into account.

Since the laws only apply to manufacturers, many websites help shower-weary homeowners learn how to restore their pressures to levels not seen since the era of Bush, Sr.

Compact Fluorescent Light Bulbs

If we’ve heard it once, we’ve heard it a zillion times: Compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs) last ten times as long and use nearly 70% less energy than incandescent bulbs.

So why doesn’t everyone use them?

While CFLs have improved over the past few decades, there are still some huge downsides, which have prevented many from making the switch.
First off, some people find the quality of light is poor, unattractive or depressing. They are also more expensive than the more attractive incandescent bulbs.

Most importantly, there are significant health — and even environmental — risks associated with CFLs, as this article discusses. They are filled with mercury, one of the most toxic elements on earth, which is bad news when it comes time to throw them away (they will burn out eventually). CFLs also emit electromagnetic field radiation, which has been linked to cancer and neurological disorders.

For now, people can still choose incandescents in exchange for a higher electric bill, but that may change. The Energy Bill will require household light bulbs, starting with the 100-watt, to use 30 percent less electricity by 2014.

The Prius

2010 Toyota Prius
2010 Toyota Prius

Since its groundbreaking debut in 1997, the Toyota Prius has been the most fuel-efficient gasoline car on the market. At around 51 miles per gallon, it seems like there’s a lot to like.

Or is there?

Never mind that The Sunday Times (UK) proved the dowdy Prius to be less efficient than a snazzy diesel-powered BMW. And forget that Prius owners have been known to buy Priuses for no other reason than to be seen driving a Prius.

Nothing kills the warm glow of fuel efficiency quite like a stuck gas pedal.

In February, Toyota recalled about 8 million cars worldwide, including over 300,000 Priuses, because gas pedals were getting stuck or caught in floor mats.


A few years ago, organic light-emitting diode (OLED) screens seemed to be the next big thing in TV.

But according to some industry experts, the screens, which use 40% less energy than LCD models, teeter on the brink between thin and flimsy. They’re also pricey. Or at least they were. Earlier this year, Sony stopped making its XEL-1, the lone OLED TV on the market. The company cited “sluggish demand” — maybe because an 11-inch screen cost around $2,000.

There’s a good chance we haven’t seen the last of the OLED TV, however. Earlier this year, California adopted the country’s first energy-efficiency standards for televisions. In a few years, OLED TVs may be the only ones on the shelves in the Golden State.

“Organic” Wine

Interestingly, wine may be the only product that actually costs less when it carries an organic label, according to this New York Times column.

This is partly because connoisseurs still remember the wretched quality of the first organic wines from 30 years ago. The truth is, a lot of wine is made with grapes that have been grown organically. But most winemakers aren’t allowed to call their wine organic. They wouldn’t want to either. In the United States, organic wine must be made without added sulfites, even if the grapes were grown organically.

Regardless of taste, experts say that sulfite-free wine has a short shelf life, especially when combined with heat and light. To avoid guzzling vinegar, the experts recommend sticking to the most recent vintage.