1 in 6 Americans clueless about what’s really in their common household products

NEW YORK — Navigating the maze of product labels and sustainability claims is proving to be a tough task for many Americans, with a new survey revealing that one in six admit to being in the dark about the ingredients in the products they use daily, especially among Gen Z. The poll of 2,000 Americans, which looks at their efforts to be sustainable in their everyday lives, finds that it’s harder than it may seem. More than half of respondents believe it’s “near impossible” to live guilt-free in their homes when it comes to sustainability (57%).

Forty percent of those surveyed consider their lifestyle “somewhat environmentally friendly,” while 28 percent, especially millennials (42%), say they are living a “very environmentally friendly” lifestyle. 

According to 73 percent of those surveyed, knowing the ingredients in the products you use often is an important part of living sustainably. Millennials (79%) and baby boomers (65%) are particularly keen on understanding what’s in their products and in their homes. 

infographic on the common household products that contain fossil fuels.

Of all the different items that they use to care for their home, respondents narrowed the absolute necessities down to trash bags (70%), dish soap (67%), and laundry detergent (65%). However, the survey shows that a quarter of Americans haven’t considered the impact these products have on the environment.

Respondents were not aware that common household items might contain fossil fuels like toothpaste (39%), which contains poloxamer 407, a petroleum derivative that helps make oil-based products dissolve easier in water. One in three didn’t know plastic dishes are composed of refined natural gas and oil (35%), and 26 percent weren’t aware that laundry detergent contains chemicals created from petroleum.

They were most surprised to discover toothpaste (51%) contains these materials, while another 36 percent were surprised to learn this about laundry detergent, and 32 percent didn’t expect candles to contain these kinds of traces.

“Many consumers don’t realize that many ingredients in conventional household products are petroleum-based,” says spokesperson Alison Whritenour, CEO of Seventh Generation, in a statement. “Green chemistry has come so far and it’s completely possible to make plant-based products that will clean like conventional products. Choosing plant-based products is one simple way people can lessen their impact on the environment without sacrifice.”

Nearly half of Americans say that it shouldn’t fall on consumers to worry about the safety of the products they purchase (48%). In fact, nearly four times the number of respondents believe that brands are more responsible for product safety as opposed to consumers (45% vs. 12%).

Similarly, 42 percent believe that consumers should be able to expect environmental friendliness when making purchases without having to do extensive research. While 45 percent aren’t sure that it’s possible to avoid fossil fuels completely within their home, two in three want to try to live more sustainably. To get there, six in 10 want to eliminate unsustainable products from their home.

Fifty-five percent of respondents would switch the products they use to live a 100-percent environmentally friendly lifestyle, with 45 percent expressing their willingness to pay more for sustainable products. Some would go to further extremes, saying they would only watch TV using one streaming platform (23%) or only drink water forever (18%) if it meant they’d be living more sustainably.

The top product Americans would have a hard time giving up, even knowing it can be unsustainable, is laundry detergent (19%).

“Americans don’t have to give up their favorite common household products to live more sustainably,” says Whritenour. “There are plant-based brands that are labeled USDA Certified Biobased with a wide variety of household cleaning and personal care products that provide effective alternatives for consumers to use every day.”

Survey methodology:

This random double-opt-in survey of 2,000 general population Americans was commissioned by Seventh Generation between August 16 and August 21, 2023. It was conducted by market research company OnePoll, whose team members are members of the Market Research Society and have corporate membership to the American Association for Public Opinion Research (AAPOR) and the European Society for Opinion and Marketing Research (ESOMAR).