DISSOLVABLE PLASTIC | Should We Use it for Our Products?

When we develop products, we stick to these 3 principles:

  1. It has to biodegrade (that means it will decompose into reusable nutrients)
  2. It has to have an eco certification (meaning the ingredients that make our products are 3rd party accredited, so they are best in class for you and our planet)
  3. It’s gotta be plastic free (both to reduce the carbon footprint and, again, to biodegrade)

When we started developing our plastic free liquid dish soap, we wrestled with what plastic alternatives we could use to store it.

The first option we explored was PVOH, PVA, or PVAL - otherwise known as Polyvinyl alcohol.  

PVA/PVOH gained popularity with Dishwasher pods and has since been used to contain a variety of Dishwasher, Laundry detergents and Shampoos for a number of ‘eco brands’, including both 'pods' and also 'laundry sheets', which are becoming increasingly popular.  

PVA/PVOH is technically 'plastic' because it is pliable - bendy and stretchy - but it's not the same plastic as a plastic bag because of what happens to it when it contacts water.

Many companies claim PVA/PVOH is ‘biodegradable’, but when we started digging deeper, this ‘eco-claim’ wasn't so cut and dry.

Why?

PVOH DOESN’T ‘BIODEGRADE’ IT ‘DISSOLVES’

In our research, PVOH does not biodegrade so much as it dissolves into a "non-harmful" monomer, and while those molecules can biodegrade, the time it takes for them to actually biodegrade is a little foggy.  Years, decades, 100 years or more?  Our research wasn't able to provide any conclusive timelines. 

Advocates for PVOH say this is not a problem and it’s a lot better than having mounds of 'solid' plastic floating around the ocean, but it still is leaving ‘something’ behind.  We just don't yet know the impact - if any - of having increasing amounts of these molecules floating around our waterways.  That said, our research to date does not suggest that those molecules are what we you would think of as 'micro-plastics'.

PVOH IS OIL BASED = NOT CARBON NEUTRAL

The other challenge with PVOH is that it is derived from petrochemicals (oil based and therefore against dev principal 2).  That said, right now, it's really hard to avoid petrochemicals - hence why we are in the climate crisis we are currently in - because even most 'plant based' cleaners (including our own) contain small amounts of petrochemicals.  

 

WHY BEESWAX PODS?

Given the unknowns about biodegradation, long term impacts and the reliance on petrochemicals, we chose not to use PVA/PVOH and instead developed our own pod made from all natural materials.  Materials we were already familiar with from our other products - beeswax, soy wax and naturally occurring oils and resins.


What’s great about natural materials is that you don’t need a pile of research to figure out if they decompose - you can just toss them in the earth and know they'll go away.

BUT THERE'S A FLIP SIDE TO OUR BEESWAX PODS
  1. They cost moreR&D is time consuming and expensive.  We are still in the early stages of developing our pods and there are many improvements to be made - both from the design/materials and the manufacturing - and so that means we can't make them as cheaply as their PVA/PVOH counterparts.
  2. There is still 'waste': While the pods are natural and they can be repurposed, reused and composted, there is still 'waste' left behind.  PVOH on the other hand just dissolves.

When it comes to 'price', we did come up with a work around through the Plastic Free Club, but we feel that if we really want to make a change, we need to hit the MASSES and that requires a major drop in the price.  

And this has led us back to a core question.  Should we re-visit PVA/PVOH?

It’s definitely a step forward from traditional plastic, and we're already exploring an improvement that could see a similar film made without oil, but that is a couple years out (at best).  In the meantime, we are left deciding:

SHOULD WE CONTINUE TO DEVELOP OUR OWN ‘WAX SOAP-PODS’ OR SHOULD WE INCORPORATE PVOH?  JOIN THE CONVERSATION, COMMENT BELOW.
Plastic Free Living plastic pollution Plastic-Free Liquid Dish Soap Product Development zero waste

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Comments


  • They may make the claim to be dissolvable. But, they do not. There is often residue left over in my washing machine (and I use them ever so infrequently), the product doesn’t go down the drain and dissolve. It stays in my machine and I have to clean it out. I don’t use these pods in my dishwasher for the same reason. I have heard that they can clog up your machine as they do not dissolve. Stick with the wax. Could we send it back to you for reuse?? Bees work hard to make that stuff. Thanks for all the work and for asking.

    Caroline on
  • I say go with your own product. It’s going to take a couple of years for the masses to start thinking about converting anyway, and I’m more of the Bernie school of thought when it comes to doing the right thing: less bad is not good. People get complacent with “less bad” and forget there’s more to be done. Ya gotta go all the way, and do the good thing.

    Kathy Bradley on
  • Yes, we should use biodegradable plastic as soon as possible and also charge for plastic bags like European countries.

    Eileen Melva Steffens on
  • YES OF COURSE we should lead a plastic free way of life! Please continue do this and improving our footprint on this earth. Thank you so much!

    Sarah Berto on
  • PVOH is very low toxicity (professional opinion) other than some local irritation effects and is much better than regular plastics. Minimal information about long-term environmental issues with solutions of the monomer in the environment … on the other hand, it is widely used in many industries so there is a lot of it out there regardless of what this company chooses to do. Nothing is perfect, life is a compromise, there are worse materials out there. Why not do a test run?

    https://pubchem.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/compound/Polyvinyl-alcohol

    Richard Gregson on


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