I've been thinking about this for a few weeks, and then commenter Dani brought it up too: Where does all this Baking Soda I'm swiftly becoming obsessed with come from? Is it natural? How is it produced? Transported? Etc. These are good questions, and not ones that are easy to find the answers to. Production and consumption cycles have grown so complex that sometimes we think we're making the green choice and it turns out not to be so. I'm still backing Baking soda though, and here's why:
Baking Soda is Soduim Bicarbonite (NaCO3) and it does exist in nature. People used to mine for it (or actually the soda ash, aka ore trona, which is quite plentiful in the US.) Now we create a more purified version by fusing stuff (Calcium Carbonate, Sodium Chloride, Ammonia and Carbon Dioxide) in a lab. Yes, the process does emit CO2 into the air, but apparently no more than any other factory-produced good (which is practically everything.) Baking Soda can also be made by another method because 'trona' is plentiful here. In the other common method, one dissolves the trona in water and injects it with CO2. Natural Gas is used in the process, as is a small amount of ammonia, but far less of either is used in bicarb production than in the production of say, bleach or drano or ammonia itself. The majority of the Baking Soda for the whole world is produced in this country, so at least it doesn't have to travel too far! In other parts of the world it's made with limestone and brine.
Church and Dwight is the father company of Arm & Hammer, which is the brand I'm using because it's what I have right now. I've always hated Church and Dwight as a company, but this is because the ad agency I used to work for dealt with them constantly. They were stingy and stodgy, an old-school company weary of any innovation and slow to pay their bills. Then again, baking soda hasn’t changed much over the years so maybe they’re right not to budge. And I shouldn't let my interpersonal conflicts with their employees color this post too much!
In a 1993 business report, I found out a bunch of cool stuff about the company. It started including wildlife picture cards in boxes of Baking Soda in 1888 to raise awareness about endangered species. How cool! In 1908 Church & Dwight began using recycled paper in their boxes! Who knew anyone recycled back then? In 1990 they hired an executive to define their environmental policy – something other companies swiftly copied to get in onboard the trend train. Apparently, C&D focuses on ‘beginning of the pipe’ pollution prevention, rather than ‘end of the pipe’ pollution clean-up, which is music to my ears. However, the rest of the business report reads more like a PR document than a concrete explanation of how the company functions in a green way. This makes sense. Green means money, after all. C&D donates quite a bit of cash to environmental education and stewardship. They also focus the report on how Sodium Bicarbonate could be used by other businesses to lessen their environmental impact since it is a cleaning agent without any toxins, and one that actually helps our municipal water supply when it’s poured down the drain (the how was lost on me in the technical prose.) The process of production itself was not addressed, although they do highlight the safety of their workers as top priority. This omission could be due to the fact that the report I read was from 15 years ago – not as much emphasis was placed on carbon footprints back then, so companies weren’t expected to reveal theirs. See the full report here . The C&D website itself talks about products and tips for using them, but doesn't include any other company info so this is all I got.
For those who do not like supporting large companies, there are small natural food companies that make Baking Soda too, although it seems they're more expensive.
In Short: the production of Baking Soda isn't carbon neutral, but it has a much smaller production footprint than other cleaning products I researched. Perhaps more importantly though, it comes in a box and it's nontoxic. Throughout its entire product lifecycle, it's the best option I've found thus far.