It costs the NHS £387m to treat patients with lung cancer each year. There is a clear link between lung cancer and smoking. However, a little-known and understood contributor to this disease is also lurking in household cleaning products.

These products, which churn out harmful toxins (VOCs) into the air, are causing breathing problems, skin irritation and lung damage, and are putting strain on an already underfunded healthcare system. In fact, it’s estimated that individuals working for 10 to 20 years with toxic cleaning chemicals suffer the same effect as smoking 20 cigarettes per day when it comes to respiratory damage.

This is an example of understanding the true cost behind not only the products fmcg businesses procure and sell, but the ongoing costs of repairing the potential damage they can cause to health, community, and environment.

True cost is comparing the market price of a good or service and equating it to the total or ‘true’ cost of how its production has affected the environment and society. For example, in the UK the production of laundry tablets and their breakdown of harsh chemicals in sewage works contributes to the equivalent carbon emissions of 600,000 cars each year, equal to 2.8 million tonnes of CO2.

A better solution is to avoid the damage in the first place

Talk of offsetting this carbon is often in the context of planting trees. This sounds simple enough, but the estimated cost to re-wild decimated forests globally stands at £814bn. It’s not just the cost of the tree that must be considered, it’s transport, labour, fence-building, water supply and ongoing forest maintenance.

In fact, the World Bank has estimated that by 2030,  $90 trillion would need to be spent globally to fix the environmental damage so far accrued. To put that into perspective, that’s 300 times the UK’s annual GDP. Who is going to pay for this reparation cost?

Repairing this damage involves a huge amount of resources, both financial and physical. A far better solution is to avoid creating the damage in the first place.

Retailers, suppliers and producers hold immense influence in shaping industries to reduce the cost of the future through today’s choices and demands. Through these, it is possible to empower consumers to be more informed and make better choices.

Cleaning and fmcg part of the day-to-day

Both retailers and suppliers can take simple, immediate steps to mitigate and reduce the environmental impacts of their businesses:

  • Choose sustainable products: Opt for eco-friendly cleaning products and fmcg items with better ingredients; readily biodegradable and aquatic-friendly, free from harmful chemicals like phosphates, phosphonates, EDTA and APEs
  • Support ethical brands and suppliers: Research and support companies prioritising fair labour practices, ethical sourcing, and environmentally responsible production. Scrutinise suppliers, prohibit greenwashing and champion authentically eco-friendly brands
  • Reduce waste: Minimise single-use plastics, embrace reusable alternatives and refuse excessive packaging when possible
  • Advocate for change: Raise awareness about the hidden costs of these industries and advocate for stricter regulations on chemicals and labour practices

The cleaning and fmcg industries have long been part of consumers’ daily lives, providing convenience and comfort. However, their true cost, both environmental and societal, cannot be ignored any longer.

It is imperative all parties acknowledge this cost and take proactive steps to mitigate it. By making conscious choices, supporting ethical brands, and advocating for change, we can create a more sustainable and equitable future for all. The power to drive positive change lies within each of us and now’s the time to use it.