New Study Shows That Claims of Being Eco-Friendly or Biodegradable By Some Manufacturers Are False
July 23, 2021 – Malibu, CA – A recent study by Plastic Oceans International and Arizona State University, published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, reveals that detergent pods are contributing to the plastic pollution problem, leaking large amounts of untreated PVA (polyvinyl alcohol) into the environment, and possibly into the human food chain.
The study stands as a clarion call to not only question how these products are marketed, but also how we legally define such terms as biodegradable and eco-friendly.
The objective of this study was to estimate the US nationwide emissions of PVA resulting from domestic use of laundry and dish detergent pods. Via extensive literature review, researchers Dr. Charlie Rolsky and Varun Kelkar, concluded that as much as 75% of PVA from these detergent pods goes untreated in the US. That’s over 8,000 tons per year entering the environment.
“Because of water solubility, PVA turns into a solution, then goes down the drain, where the chances of it fully biodegrading are very low,” said Rolsky, who serves as the Director of Science for Plastic Oceans International. “The pods can easily pass through wastewater treatment plants and travel to ecosystems beyond.”
It is still not fully known how PVA behaves as a pollutant, but current research suggests that PVA particles can sequester heavy metals and alter gas exchanges, potentially causing dangerous shifts of oxygen or carbon dioxide – which could negatively impact ecosystems. Ethylene, contained within the chemistry of PVA, could interfere with crop yields, as many plants utilize ethylene as a hormone, which influences diverse processes in plant growth, development and stress responses throughout the plant life cycle.
Preliminary findings of this study show that strict conditions must be met for PVA to fully biodegrade. This means these products are not fully capable of being decomposed by bacteria or other living organisms, and thus they cannot naturally return to the environment. The ongoing public perception is that the pods fully biodegrade, as is often claimed by their manufacturers.
“This is an issue of truth-in-labeling,” said Julie Andersen, CEO of Plastic Oceans International. “We recognize the rise in use of PVAs as a marketed ‘biodegradable’ solution to other plastic polymers causing more harm. However, based on current research, we must question these claims of biodegradability and eco friendliness in order to prevent further environmental harm and to ensure that consumers are provided with factual product information.”
As Andersen points out, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) clearly addresses marketing misinformation, including those that are directly related to false claims of environmental benefits.
The FTC Act states that the law “… acts in the interest of all consumers to prevent deceptive and unfair acts or practices. The Commission has determined that a representation, omission or practice is deceptive if it is likely to mislead consumers and affect consumers’ behavior or decisions about the product or service. Marketers may make an unqualified degradable claim only if they can prove that the entire product or package will completely break down and return to nature within a reasonably short period of time after customary disposal.”
The study provides data needed in order to demand a closer look at how manufactures are marketing their products to consumers. That’s something we can act now, but more is to be done on the research end. Dr. Rolsky says the next steps are to now study the actual impact that PVA is having on the environment, better quantifying levels found in various ecosystems and identifying the consequences related to them, in addition to exploring how closely PVA behaves relative to more traditional plastics.
About Plastic Oceans International
A US-based non-profit organization working to end plastic pollution and to foster sustainable communities worldwide. We operate with the belief that we can and must act locally in order to create change globally, and we do so through the power of film and other content to empower and globalize community actions.
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