Green cleaning cooperative
In the Boston area, a group of Brazilian immigrant housecleaners have joined together to form a co-op that makes their own environmentally-friendly and safe cleaning products and educates other housecleaners.
Many of the things we use to wash bathrooms, unblock drains, and clean ovens contain toxic ingredients. Lurking underneath many a kitchen cabinet are chemicals hazardous to your health. For professional cleaners - many of whom are women, and many of them immigrants - daily, repeated exposure can make them sick.
There are safer alternatives. Clean and green are the new watch-words for many household products advertised on TV these days, but getting the word out to non-English speaking workers can be difficult. That's where a house-cleaning coop in Boston comes in.
Monica Chianelli, a housecleaner and the coop's coordinator, helped launch Vida Verde, a new green cleaning cooperative that began last December.. She says housecleaning is the number one occupation for the women of Massachusetts's large Brazilian immigrant community.
"I felt a headache all day long and dizzy, and the end of the day you can't smell anything because you just lost your sensitivity to smell. I can feel better if I stop to use. But I know if I continue to use for months and years, I know it's going to make me feel very sick," lamented coop member Carla de Castro.
Chianelli worked with immigrant activists, interviewing hundreds of Brazilian housecleaners. She heard many complaints like these and about respiratory problems, nose bleeds, fainting and skin rashes. Research shows there's a higher incidence of asthma among professional cleaners as compared to other workers.
Vida Verde coop members aren't the only ones unwilling to wait for science and government regulations to catch up with their concerns. The demand for natural home-cleaning products has taken off recently. And several states now require janitors clean schools and other public buildings with products that meet the standards of the nonprofit certifying company Green Seal. Currently, there is no certification standard for home cleaning products. But Green Seal expects to start certifying these products, too in the coming months.
Members of the Vida Verde Coop, however, opted for another approach.
On a recent morning, Monica Chianelli and another coop member make their own natural cleaning products. Members take turns and mix enough for others to use when they clean.
They use recycled plastic bottles to store the products, and put on Vida Verde labels to identify them. And then they're ready to use them in their clients' homes.
Members of Vida Verde say that since they switched products their health problems have disappeared. And Coop members are hoping to convince more housecleaners to change the way they clean. They're making presentations to housecleaners around Massachusetts to show them how to make their own natural products---and why.