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1. How can I tell if a lubricant is ecologically sound

It is important to request and examine information on the product’s certification or ecolabel first. 

For example: This website received a question on the application of lubricants in installations, notably:

  • Gear grease
  • Grease for bright steel such as racks, pinions etc. (lubricated with a tar brush) and bearings

The products appeared to be ecologically sound, but closer inspection of the available product information proved that they did not bear the Blue Angel or European Ecolabel (EEL). On his website, the manufacturer did not claim that the products were ecological. He only stated that the product’s reduction of friction led to reduced energy usage and CO2 emissions and would, therefore, contribute to the reduction of the greenhouse effect. The manufacturer also claimed that the product was economical in use.

Because of the current climate change discussion, these aspects warrant more attention when the European Ecolabel for Lubricants’ is revised once more. However, a full LCA (Life Cycle Analysis) is required to be able to evaluate how these aspects relate to other aspects; to the total environmental performance and the total cost of ownership (TCO) of the product.

The absence of an ecolabel for the above-mentioned lubricants may be accounted for by the fact that they are based either on mineral oil or a combination of mineral and synthetic oils. A number of mineral oils bear environmental Risk-Phrases R52/53 (Harmful to aquatic organisms. May cause long-term adverse effects in the aquatic environment).

The lubricants from the example both contain substances that bear the R-phrases R36/38 (irritating to eyes and skin) and R51-53 (toxic to aquatic organisms. May cause long-term adverse effects in the aquatic environment). Labelling was not required for the reported content levels. However, for a product to be eligible for an ecolabel, the biodegradation, bioaccumulation and (aquatic) toxicity of every single component of the product needs to be evaluated using the appropriate tests.