(Belatedly) Going Nuts

For Many Consumers, the Worry All Too Often is What They Are Not Telling Us

Opinion | Ana Tajder | April 2008

Soap nuts, which grow on trees in India, are an all natural detergent (Photo: greeneyedfrog)

If I told you that the act of washing your laundry could not only be a manifestation of your political, social and environmental attitude but also a practical step towards making this world into a better place, you would probably call me nuts. Well thank you. You’re not wrong: Nuts, more concretely washing nuts, is what this article is about.

But do not let the nuts fool you; it’s too late for that, anyway. We’re all already being fooled! The nuts only serve as a practical demonstration of how easily and obviously we can be manipulated by the corporate world. And surely, they are just a tip of an iceberg.

Here’s the story: I discovered washing nuts by chance. Or more correctly, I saw them hidden on a shelf of a drugstore, read the product description and thought, "This is too good to be true! I must try it." And please, I am not just any consumer. For years, I belong to that group of shoppers who think they are very conscious, environment- and fair-economy-friendly consumers who buy everything with an eco or bio label on it, even if it costs more.

I came home, threw the laundry and the nuts into the washing machine and once more gave in to my curious nature – I googled "washing nuts."  What I found out made me so angry that I immediately decided to call for a revolution. A nut revolution. Because I found out that the washing nuts were a serious natural alternative to detergents. I found not only the scientific explanation of how they work, but also numerous forums swarming with positive reports by hundreds of enthusiastic users. My discovery made me feel betrayed and angry. Why did I have to find those nuts by chance? What about the freedom to choose? Why do I have (even too much) information about every new detergent on the market, but absolutely no information about the existence of an alternative? A great alternative, as it is going to show.

The nuts are 100% natural and grown in India. As they grow on resistant trees which do not need pesticides, the Indian government is assisting their farmers, which belong to some of world’s poorest people, to develop this environmentally friendly business. I do not even want to know what the production of normal detergents does to our environment; I can guess.

But what I would like to know is whom the detergent business supports. Looking at the Annual Reports by Procter & Gamble, Henkel and Unilever, three companies which rule this oligopoly, and doing a bit of math, I came to cumulated sales from laundry and home care products of approximately €22 billion a year. Some people are earning big profits here. And I am reasonably sure that they are not poor.

My new package of nuts weighs 250g, sufficient for 50 loads of laundry. Washing powder for 50 washings is packed in a 3kg box. This means, I will now have to carry 1/10 the weight. I can feel my back smiling! But so is my wallet – while a box of washing nuts costs €4, the box of washing powder costs €15.

The nuts also act as a natural softener, so no more fabric softeners, further decreasing the cost, the weight and the chemicals and packaging I will throw away. The nuts are ecologically friendly packed in a thin cardboard box. Furthermore, 100% natural, the nuts will leave absolutely no chemical residues in the water or on the clothes, so will not cause any allergies or irritations.

The nuts are also multi-purpose – they can be used to make a dish washing emulsion or a shampoo…..

The more I learn about the nuts the more I like them. And the more betrayed I feel. How come I, the "green" consumer, have never heard of these magic nuts? How can it be that with all these clear benefits, and no downsides, we are all still using washing powder? We, the environment conscious, establishment critical, educated citizens of Europe? We, the fair-trade banana eaters.

And then the truth painfully slaps me right across my face - we are just as conscious as the (so passionately hated) establishment allows us to be. And of course they keep us ignorant – as mentioned before, we are talking about a billions of euros of business here.

My head swirled with pictures of well-paid product managers in Prada sunglasses dream-scheming to sell tons of same stuff over and over again -- one day with a new smell, next in a new bottle and then again in a new shape. How many packaging producers were earning their golf holidays with those plastic bottles? How many creative directors earn their sport cars by inventing yet another same TV commercial showing a smiling mum of stain-free kids "Because a housewife doesn’t want to see anything else."

Continuing browsing through Procter and Gamble’s Annual Report  for 2007, ironically adorned with a cover showing baby feet on a lush green meadow, I found something that made me even angrier. One of their four strategic focus areas is called "Developing Markets and Lower-Income Customers" and the company has a clear goal to grow substantially in this target market. What does a developing country need laundry detergent for when there is no running water? And when they could use locally grown washing nuts instead, for one quarter the price?  According to the same document, last year, Procter and Gamble earned €20 billion in sales to this very same target market. To me, this was little better than stealing. Actually it is stealing.

So all you anti-globalization activists: Stop throwing those ineffective Molotov cocktails at the G8 summits and start a nut revolution. Here is a practical, peaceful and relatively simple first step towards making this world a better place: convert Europeans to washing nuts. I know that on this continent washing your laundry with nuts is a very new idea and that we have a long tradition of the white, scented powder - but with so many benefits and no negative side effects, it shouldn’t be too hard. We eat Chinese food and watch American movies.

In the mean time, my laundry is finished. It is just as clean as when washed with any heavy, expensive, polluting and economically disastrous washing powder.

So you see, I am not nuts. But I definitely am converted.

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