Zero Toxics Products + Materials Matrix
To the first-ever rating scale for toxic-free products
As a toxic-free products expert and a shopper myself, I need to be able to evaluate products quickly to determine if they are toxic—and if so, how toxic—or if they might be toxic-free. Some readers and clients also ask, “How toxic is this product really?” to see if they can get away with using a product they like, and others are looking for only the purest toxic-free products that exist.
I need to offer a range of toxic-free options because:
• The purest products are in short supply and not widely available…yet
• The purest products are not always affordable for everyone
• The purest products not always available to meet the individual needs of everyone (for example, there are not many organic cotton clothing items available for plus-size women)
Therefore, I have for some time needed a quick-and-easy method to categorize products in a way that indicates their relative toxicity and safety—both to use for myself, to use to communicate with others, and for others to use to communicate the relative toxicity or safety of products.
When I walk into a store or go to a website, for example, I am mentally scanning the products according to a general criteria I actually have had for many years.
If I were to line up five shopping carts so I could put each product in one of the carts, the lineup of shopping carts would look something like this:
Zero Toxics is a work-in-progress. The most important thing to me is to get as much data as possible posted as quickly as I can.
Therefore, sometimes the formatting won’t be as beautiful or consistent as it could be because I’d rather you have the data than wait for someone to create better images or figure out how to format something.
I’m creating the big picture here. Formatting and filling in all the details will happen as I put the pieces together.
Not likely to lead to illness or injury under normal use – made from organic or sustainable renewable plants or animals, or abundant minerals.
Not likely to lead to illness or injury under normal use – made form renewable plants or animals, or abundant materials.
Not likely to lead to illness or injury under normal use – made petroleum.
Known to cause illness or injury with repeated exposure over time – made with one or more chemicals of concern.
Known to cause immediate harm and may even lead to death – made with one or more chemicals of concern.
My Zero Toxics Products + Materials Matrix begins with a general relative toxicity scale that applies to all products, then breaks down into sector scales for groups of related products, and then finally into more than 100 scales for specific products.
Here is the general relative toxicity scale of the Zero Toxics Products + Materials Matrix:
This is a simple A-B-C-D-E-F rating system because there are no terms that can be used that would apply to all products for each rating across all product categories. The criteria for an “A” rating, for example, would be organic fabric for a t-shirt, but a water filter isn’t made from agricultural materials, so it can’t be organic. But there can be an equivalent degree of toxic-free for other products.
The A-B-C-D-E-F Zero Toxics Products + Materials Matrix harkens back to the A-B-C ratings I used in my first book Nontoxic & Natural, published in 1984.
Though I have not used these ratings in public through the years, they have remarkably withstood the test of time in terms of their usefulness and have been the foundation of my thinking process continuously since.
Here are the original definitions:
A—Products of Choice
These products contain none of the harmful substances listed at the beginning of the entry. Prepared foods contain at least one organic ingredient [this was before there was an organic standard] and many contain honey, rice syrup, barley malt syrup, or date sugar as a sweetener. A-rated products are truly nontoxic and natural: they are not merely the most nontoxic or natural that happen to be available. For many entries, no brand names are rated A.
B—Better Than Average; Relatively Nontoxic and Commonly Available
These products are basically made up of nontoxic materials and ingredients, but
- may contain residues of toxic chemicals (such as pesticides or dyes),
- may be made from relatively harmless derivatives or man-made chemicals,
- may release a slight toxic odor when wet but be odorless and nontoxic when dry, or
- may have some unavoidable plastic parts.
C—Use With Caution
A C-rated product is included only when it has a particular advantage, even though it normally would be excluded because it contains one or more of the harmful substances listed (an unscented beauty product that contains synthetic glycerin, for example, or an additive-free but sugar-sweetened chocolate bar). products rated C may contain sucrose, hydrogenated oil, synthetic glycerin, or some plastic if those are on the harmful substances list. In addition, C-rated cosmethings may contain artificial colors, mineral oil, talc, paraffin, or EDTA. These products are not really recommended but are better than others. If you must have a chocolate bar, select a C-rated on rather than another containing more artificial additives.
Of course, there were limitations to these A-B-C ratings and things not known at the time that we know today. One of the major improvements to the ratings in the Matrix is the ratings apply to both products and materials, so I can note the degree of safety or harm for both products and materials, instead of putting both benzene and artificial colors on the same list as if they were equally toxic and equally important to avoid.
I went on to say please do not take these ratings too literally; they are provided simply as a rough guideline to help direct you to products or catalogs that will meet your needs so you do not waste your time or money. Always investigate the products for yourself.
And this applies today as well. The marketplace and materials are constantly changing. What I say today may not be true tomorrow.
ALWAYS INVESTIGATE PRODUCTS AND MATERIALS FOR YOURSELF.
AND LET ME KNOW IF ANYTHING I WRITE NEEDS CORRECTION.
This matrix can be used for a variety of purposes:
SHOPPERS can use the matrix
• To quickly evaluate a product as to its level of toxicity
• As a management tool to systematically eliminate toxic exposures in homes or offices
• As a measurement tool to track improvement as they reduce toxic exposure in home and office
HEALTHCARE PROVIDERS can use the matrix
• To quickly evaluate levels of toxic exposures patients/clients may be having at home
• To evaluate products they may want to recommend to patients/clients to reduce their toxic exposure
MANUFACTURERS can use the matrix
• To determine where their products fall within the scope of toxic-free products
• To set goals to improve product materials so as to move up the scale
• To communicate to retailers and shoppers where their products fall on the scale
RETAILERS can use the matrix
• To evaluate the relative toxicity of product they choose to sell
• To communicate to shoppers the relative toxicity of the products they sell
Developing the Matrix is a work-in-progress and will likely change as the sector and product outcome scales are developed.
ZERO TOXICS PRODUCTS + MATERIALS MATRIX OUTCOME SCALES CURRENTLY AVAILBLE: