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When Going Green or Looking for Performance – Look Beyond the Labels

I often ponder the products that have come to market and continue to come to market – reading labels, looking at their chemistry. This is not something I do because I’m in the business, nor am I a chemist. However, I do use common sense. Many products have come to market in the past 5+ years claiming to be “environmentally friendly”. But, it is incumbent on the end-users – recreational boaters, industrial operators and marine service providers – to look beyond the labels and they will realize that some of those products are still incredibly dangerous to the people and to the environment.

Recently I went to a few marine stores and examined some labels of products. It’s interesting that you find the same national brands everywhere you look, and in some isolated geographic markets you find a few additional products that are “environmentally friendly”. It really is sad that many products claiming to be environmentally friendly are not, and many of the truly environmentally friendly products will never make it into either the national limelight or the international scene. This is mostly a result of two distinct phenomena: (1) because most developers/manufacturers of environmentally friendly products tend to be small businesses with insufficient funding to allow them to migrate beyond their captive audience or their home territory, and (2) because many of these products are not necessarily able to compete on performance relative to some of the national brands that have been tried and proven.

I call this the “30-30-30 Rule”: the environmentally products of the past cost 30% more, are 30% less effective and we have to work 30% harder to use them. Why would we want to use products like these? However, here’s the dichotomy – we have historically shied away from these products because they haven’t necessarily worked as well (or we don’t want to work harder to use them), yet we gravitate toward a “national brand” and consciously choose one of their products because it states it is “environmentally friendly”. Let’s examine this for a second. By definition this mean that we not only take pride in what our boat or other marine asset looks like, but, we are clearly concerned about what we put into the water or the ground (whether it’s in the driveway of our home or in the marina yard). Why do we act this way? Because, either we are really conscious about our activities, or we are concerned about what others might think if we use horrendous products. After all, this is someone who was fined, 4 years ago, (I won’t mention the dollar amount) in the sate of California for improperly washing a car and not reclaiming the water and pumping it into a city drain.

Now, let me state this: I challenge you to pick up any of the historic “national brands”, claiming on the label that the product is “environmentally friendly” and then look at their active ingredients (on the bottle or the MSDS). Many of them will say Hydrochloric Acid or Phosphoric Acid, Oxalic Acid (in many cases 85%+ concentrations). “How do they do it?” you might ask. They add “buffering agents” – compounds temporarily stabilizing these acids avoiding short-term detrimental issues. However, these products are still acids – very dangerous ones – and the MSDS’s state the same handling suggestions and ecological impacts as the primary “hazardous materials that formulate these products. If the stabilizers degrade or are neutralized (due to heat, cold, improper storage, etc), what’s left is a caustic, harsh and dangerous acid. These products that are used as engine flushes, bottom cleaners, etc. Are you sure that these products, even in a stabilized form should be run through an engine, or should come in contact with brite-work, thru-hulls or the engine (inside or out).

The evolution of “eco-safe” products is here, replacing “environmentally friendly” products. These are products that contain no harsh acids, “digest” rather than biodegrade and emulsify, “neutralize and digest” rather than simply deodorize (or cover up odors), etc. Simply put, there are companies that have developed chemical technologies that are based on all natural derivative ingredients (i.e. salts rather than acids), enzymes and bacteria rather than perfumes and phosphates, etc. These products are as effective, or more than, those products containing caustic and hazardous materials stated above. Best of all … they are competitive in price and can be more lucrative business propositions for those involved in the distribution chain of these products. These products work! And, some of the manufacturers are becoming well-capitalized and can finally make these products international brands.

I’m not an environmentalist here – I’m using products that perform and are good for the boat, engine, myself and don’t have detrimental affects on things like bleaching or burning unwanted areas, tarnishing metals, etc. – and I comply with the good of our ecology and the people that manage its future.

Pete Hellwig
Vice President
Mariner’s Choice Corp.

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