POLYVINYL ALCOHOL (PVA, PVOH) | How Easily Does it Biodegrade?

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.



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.  

In a recent Journal article from the Royal Society titled: Microplastics and synthetic particles ingested by deep-sea amphipods in six of the deepest marine ecosystems on Earth, Scientists from Newcastle University conducted what they consider to be a more comprehensive study of microplastics in our Oceans by exploring the ingestion of micro plastics in deep sea trenches.  

By focusing on the deepest reaches of our Oceans, we are better able to glean just how far microplastic pollution has travelled.

“A subsample of microfibres and fragments analysed using FTIR were found to be a collection of plastic and synthetic materials (Nylon, polyethylene, polyamide, polyvinyl alcohol, polyvinylchloride, often with inorganic filler material), semi-synthetic (rayon and lyocell) and natural fibre (ramie). Notwithstanding, this study reports the deepest record of microplastic ingestion, indicating that anthropogenic debris is bioavailable to organisms at some of the deepest locations in the Earth's oceans.” (A. J. Jamieson, L. S. R. Brooks, W. D. K. Reid, S. B. Piertney, B. E. Narayanaswamy and T. D. Linley, The Royal Society Publishing, February 27th, 2019).


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.   


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 and other naturally occurring oils, waxes 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.

  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:


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  • No I don’t think you guys should do that – still going to be present in the water – not an ideal solution
    Plastic free please :)

    EMilie on
  • No plastics please! You make it easier for the rest of us by providing products that help us with our resolve.

    Nancy D Campbell on
  • I feel that you are unique and should continue without the plastic (even if it dissolves) and that is also something that makes you different. Thanks

    rachelle soule on
  • The concern is what is left in the water after these chemicals dissolve. I like your beeswax based items.

    Patricia Hartman on
  • I vote no on ANY type of plastic, especialy when you don’t know the “down the road” conseqyenses. Remember when “They” said glyphosate was harmless, and dormant once it was in the earth? I didn’t believe “Them” then, and am glad I never drank the kool aid,. NO to plastic! Thanks for asking!

    cheri roshon on
  • No plastic of any kind please!

    Jill Diamant on
  • From this consumers standpoint, it’s totally worth the extra money for the Beeswax pods. The fact that you use beeswax pods instead of dissolvable plastic is one of the things that sets your company apart from the masses!

    Laurel Foley on
  • If you’re going to abandon the wax, consider using PLANT-based, NON-biodegradable plastic.
    This avoids the use of petrochemicals, avoids the release of fossil-source CO2 into the environment when the material eventually breaks down, and avoids the unknown effects of the dissolved monomers you mention. Effectively, you’d be capturing that plant-derived carbon for centuries, creating a CARBON NEGATIVE product. Wouldn’t that be best?
    Some pertinent articles:

    dave barnard on
  • I read a comment from someone with similar concerns about using wax. What would -happen to the wax – in the dish washer? I had not thought of the effects of the wax on septic systems or sewage pipes. Also with the bees in a challenging world – how do you “harvest” their wax ?
    So I guess I would go with the gentleman who suggested using the PVA/PVOH material and keep working on better alternatives.
    Thank you for your work!

    Shirley Park on
  • I like your product because it has No plastic .
    Don’t ruin it
    Plastic free for me

    Edie on

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