How green is my shopping basket?


By Debra Wirth

SYDNEY — An environmentally friendly herbal flea collar for your cat? What about some biodegradable washing detergent that cleans your clothes better than the environmentally unsound kind?

These are just two of the products you can buy at one of the Cleanhouse Effect's two Sydney stores. Co-owner of the new green supermarkets Cindy Babbage hopes that providing people with access to environmentally sound cleaning agents and other products will help to overcome the environmental crisis; she also recognises a need to campaign against environmental destruction on a broader level.

The idea for a green supermarket came about because Cindy and her de facto husband were frustrated green consumers. While environmentally safe products were more or less available, "but you'd have to shop at three or four different places to get them, and it just drove us nuts because they were always out of refills or they were always out of something.

"We decided that, even beyond cleaning products, there were other things that we were coming across and other information that, if other people knew about it, could make a difference."

When Cindy's husband suggested they open a shop, she was sceptical, but after discussions with his sister, who had done a course on small business, "We thought: well, let's get some friends together, get the capital together and open the Cleanhouse Effect".

The shops try to stock everything for the home except food. "We've got paints and light bulbs, recycled paper, we've got cleaning products that we sell in refills — so you buy a container and bring it back when it's empty. We also have personal products and essential oils and potpourris and that sort of thing."

I asked Cindy whether it was expensive to be green: how do products sold by the Cleanhouse Effect compare in price to non-environmentally sound products?

"Initially, when you look at most of the products that are in our store, you would think that they are much more expensive than what you would buy in a regular supermarket", she answered. But people are surprised when they look into it more closely.

"For example, Herbon laundry liquid we sell for $9.90 off the shelf and $9.00 in a refill. That works out to be about 27 cents a wash. Compared to the Choice testing, Omo costs you 55 cents

a wash. In fact, in the same test Omo didn't get the clothes as clean as the Herbon. They appeared cleaner because Omo has optical brighteners in it, but they weren't actually cleaner.

"So with most of the products that we have — I won't say all, but most of them — they are concentrated, you're not using as much and in some way or form they benefit you — be it health-wise or environmentally."

Can encouraging people to buy environmentally sound products be effective in helping to stop destruction of the environment? Cindy replies with some calculations they did at the time they opened their Dee Why shop, seven months after the Newtown store opened.

"We had saved, just in the seven months up to December with the one shop, something like 3000 plastic containers. And the number of light globes we'd sold, we'd saved tonnes of carbon dioxide gas going into the atmosphere. So in our small way, yes, I think we make a difference."

And there's an additional difference: 10% of profits from the Cleanhouse Effect are distributed to environmental groups and associated research projects.