Swiffer Embodied Energy
In 1999 the international company Procter and Gamble introduced the Swiffer and “gave cleaning a whole new meaning” by bring the same business model used with razors and replaceable blades to mopping and sweeping. Today the Swiffer can be found in households across the world (Wikipedia). As the ingredients in the Swiffer wet cloth cleaning solution are all chemicals, it was fairly hard to trace them, going by many different names depending on which part of the process is reporting on it. As such some chemicals were not found and some of the full chemical production processes could not revealed.
I would assume the Swiffer is made of mostly aluminum and some type of poly-something plastic but I couldn’t confirm that because it was especially difficult to find out what materials actually make up the mop and handle, though the chemicals that are put in the wet cloths were easy enough to find, as Procter and Gamble publish multiple sources revealing the chemicals in their products. Sources indicate that the ingredients in Swiffer wet cloths include Propylene Glycol n-Propyl Ether, Butoxypropanol, Alkyl Polyglycoside, Dialkyl Dimethyl Ammonium Chloride, Polyoxyethylene caster oil, Linear Alkylbenzene Sulfonate, Acrylic Copolymer, Methylisothiazolinone, Chloromethylisothiazalone, and Polydimethylsiloxane (www.pg.com). Since becoming an international company they have manufacturing plants worldwide and as such use shipping as a main method of international transport (p6distributioncasestudy.wikispaces.com). As such one of the embodied energies of their products is the burning of massive amounts of fossil fuels. When the product or material is to be transported over land Procter and Gamble uses their large fleet of freight truck to transport goods, which also burns massive amounts of fossil fuels. Many of the chemicals were very hard to find any kind of thorough explanation of the manufacturing process or life cycle.
Propylene Glycol n-Propyl Ether is one of the major active ingredients in the chemical cocktail that is up Swiffer wet cloths. Propylene Glycol is produced at high temperatures and used in some food production. The production process for propylene glycol n-propyl ether is somewhat similar to the production process for propylene glycol, both using high temperatures. Fossil fuels are used in the shipping and transport of the product and materials.
Butoxypropanol is one of the shadier chemicals, and as such I was unable to find any information on the embodied energy of the process. As mentioned before Procter and Gamble uses shipping for international transport and trucks for transport over land so one of the embodied energies is fossil fuel. I also imagine, as is the case in most chemical processes that some sort of heating takes place in the chemical processes that produce Butoxypropanol.
Alkyl Polyglycoside is one of the less mystical elements in the concoction that makes up Swiffer’s wet cloths cleaning formula. Just as Butoxypropanol it is most likely transported by shipping and truck. During preparation of Alkyl Polyglycosides monofunctional alcohols are mixed with powered glycols at elevated temperatures, thus thermal energy is definitely an embodied energy of alkyl polygylcosides. Also changes in pressure are also used, which I believe to be mechanical energy, during a liquid phase of the reaction. Once done the finished alkyl polyglycoside is now in the form of a paste (Wikipedia).
Dialkyl Dimethyl Ammonium Chloride was certainly interesting as it appears in many cleaners across the market. While the reaction process that makes it was slightly illusive, it was found that dialkyl dimethyl ammonium chloride is made by quaternization of the tertiary fatty amine using chemicals such as methyl chlorides (Davis, 51). Considering they are using chemical terms for chemical processes I would say production of dialkyl dimethyl ammonium chloride uses chemical energy. Obviously as previously stated all of Procter and Gamble shipping is taken care of on freight ships and Semi-trucks.
Polyoxyethylene caster oil was fairly difficult to find decent information on as it is only one of the many derivatives of caster oil and as such it was hard to pinpoint. Caster oil itself is made from crushing the seeds of the caster plant, making mechanical energy one of the embodied energies of Polyoxyethylene caster oil (Wikipedia). Once again Procter and Gamble uses shipping on freight ships and Semi-trucks as means of product transport, burning more fossil fuels.
The production of Linear Alkylbenzene Sulfonate begins with the production of Linear Alkylbenzene. To produce Linear Alkylbenzene you start with linear paraffin and high purity kerosene and after many chemical reactions you achieve a linear alkene which reacts with benzene to produce a linear alkylbenzene (Wikipedia). Then the alkylbenzene is sulfonated with sulfur trioxides and sulfonic acid, which is neutralized with lye, or sodium hydroxide (Wikipedia). The main embodied energy in the production of linear alkylbenzene sulfonate is chemical energy with the obvious energy also coming from Procter and Gamble’s standard methods of transport.
Acrylic Copolymer are made by reacting two “mers” to get a polymer, a mer being a chain of some sort of molecule, acrylic in this case. The embodied energies in the making and moving of acrylic copolymer are thermal, from the bonding of the “mers” and chemical energy from the burning of fossil fuels.
Methylisothiazolinone is a chemical found commonly in all sorts of household comforts, such as shampoos, hair spray/bleaches, make-up, laundry detergent, bubble bath, and more. Its use has been banned in Canada and petitions to ban it in the UK have circulated on the web (epetitions.direct.gov.uk). Though Procter and Gamble list it as a preservative in their Swiffer brand wet cloths, that is about all they say. Unable to find any further information on the production process and the embodied energy therein, I can only say that Procter and Gamble, as with their other products, most likely ships this using freight ships and trucks as well.
Chloromethylisothiazalone was fairly hard to track. While Thiazalone is used to treat Legionellae and information on that topic was abundant, information about chloromethylisothiazalone as a preservative, which is what Procter and Gamble describes it as, was rare to nonexistent. Its transport as stated before is more likely than not handled by shipping and trucks, continuing the burning of ancient deceased life forms.
Polydimethylsiloxane was yet another elusive ingredient in the Swiffer Wet Cloths, listed by Procter and Gamble as a processing aid. As with many of the other chemicals used in the cleaning solution, high temperature and boiling the chemicals plays a part in the production of polydimethylsiloxane. Also as with their other materials and products, Procter and Gamble use freight ships and semi-trucks to transport their goods between locations.
While many companies, Procter and Gamble included, boast that they make public all sort of information about the chemicals in their products, this is merely a way to make the general public feel at ease. In reality the information they do provide is bogged down with so many technical/industry terms, scientific names and the like that it may as well be impenetrable to the layman. When every chemical they use not only has complex scientific names, but between the IUPAC names, the chemical names, and the common names, they can be referred to by any one of upwards of ten or more names, making it rather confusing and difficult to follow any one chemical through who knows how many steps of very complex processes. Not only that but each company, distributer, and manufacturer, may choose its own favorite name to refer to the chemical, which as you may guess makes tracking these chemicals to be a rather insurmountable task.
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