Laundry sheets and shiny dishwasher pods all boast eco friendly and pre-measured ease. but what gives? Is this our eco solution we have been hoping for mass adoption globally? It's often associated with plastics due to its synthetic origin, but many ask is PVA a plastic? Let's explore the world of PVA and why it's used in so many sustainable products.
IS PVA PLASTIC?
PVA is a unique synthetic polymer known for its versatility and a range of applications, from adhesives to textiles and even eco-friendly packaging. The classification of PVA as a plastic can be a matter of debate, primarily due to its unique properties. Unlike conventional plastics, it easily dissolves and is invisible to the naked eye due to is high solubility in water. This would not qualify it as a micro plastic but potentially the concern would be does it build up when used in exceeding high numbers?
BENEFIT OR DANGER?
The main question for us would be: If used over time by millions or billions of people, would this material build up in our clean water source and potentially become a toxic problem? Its ability to dissolve easily in water making it likely to absorb contaminates keeping it in high concentrations. PVA also displays foaming properties in large bodies of water hinder natural wildlife which is very concerning. Right now it does not appear there are enough studies to reveal a definite answer other than- it currently biodegrades. A study conducted by Michigan State University consider it highly biodegradable but do not mention compostable. So we tread lightly and avoid its use awaiting more information on its benefits. As you know we support non-industrial compostable over the general term of biodegradable.
OUR PLASTIC DEFINITION
There are so many chemical modifications used to create products we created an ever-growing list of plastic common names. By our definition if a product is a synthetic polymer, made from petroleum derived sources, and cannot safely integrate back into the environment (toxic) by normal everyday exposure, then it is a plastic. Currently PVA is made from oil and is a polymer so it already falls into the category for a plastic to us here at DEW MIGHTY.
COMMON PRODUCTS USING PVA
Adhesives: Glue That Bonds It All: PVA-based glues, often referred to as white glue or wood glue, are a staple in homes, schools, and workshops. They are known for their strong bonding capabilities and are commonly used for crafting, woodworking, and DIY projects.
Packaging "Eco-Friendly Solutions": PVA is making waves in the packaging industry, especially in the quest for eco-friendly alternatives. Water-soluble PVA packaging materials, like dissolvable pouches, are gaining popularity so check with the brand if you plan to avoid it.
Pharmaceuticals Binder in Medications: PVA can be found in pharmaceutical tablets and capsules, where it acts as a binder, helping to hold the active ingredients together.
Personal Care Products Capsules for Convenience: Next time you use a shampoo or body wash capsule, you likely are handling PVA. These clear and shiny capsules often use PVA for their water-soluble packaging. Check with the brand if they found a unique alternate source or if PVA is their way of making the product. Labeling guidelines suggest they do not need to tell you the materials in their packaging since it is not considered an ingredient in their formula.
Paper Coating Enhancing Paper Quality: PVA is used as a coating agent for paper, improving its surface properties, printability, and overall strength
Food Industry Edible Innovations: PVA is a versatile ingredient in the food industry, where it is used to create edible films for products like breath strips and dissolvable pouches for powdered supplements.
Detergents and Cleaners Cleaning Made Easy: PVA-based films play a role in dishwasher and laundry detergent pods, contributing to their dissolvable outer casings.
Textiles Intricate Embroidery: Ever wonder how intricate embroidery patterns are created? PVA-based films play a hidden role here. These films are used as temporary support materials for embroidery, dissolving away to reveal the beautifully embroidered fabric. It is also used in other processing and handling for ease prior to a final product.
DOES IT REALLY BIODEGRADE?
The great debate is if the claims made about biodegradation and harm impact to our environment. Most companies selling the technology emphatically say YES and it is because microbes in waste treatment plants are "eating it" and breaking it down. When independent lab studies were conducted on marine water it appears the degradation of the PVA is significantly lowered since marine water PH is greater than 8 and likely to lack the same microbes used to process waste water. This same study also shows some degree of marine toxicity for certain PVA materials and not others. Lastly, The claims of wastewater treatment removing nearly all PVA from our waterways seems to be unlikely. As it turns out, in highly dense populations across the US the waste water facilities tested show PVA is not readily digested by microbes at 100% success rate. There is also sludge and wastewater that does not go through majority of the systems treatment because they are filtered to other use like agriculture. It appears that like most studies, our real life conditions are not optimized to match the biodegradable claims suppliers make on this plastic.
THE QUEST FOR MORE INFORMATION
PVA is used across nearly every industry. Similar to traditional plastics it is from oil based petroleum and is not classified as compostable. Early on, PVA has found a role in the eco-friendly market for applications, particularly in dissolvable packaging. We hope the brands that adopted this style of product will also stop to do the necessary testing to understand the long term impacts. Does PVA act innocuously or does it harm it over time? Current studies believe it can biodegrade, but as usual we ask- is that really the case in real life circumstances? Polyvinyl uses a petroleum feedstock, it's supported by big oil companies, and that leads us to think are we turning a blind eye to a potential problem? A group of non-profits and companies thing the same thing and filed a petition with the EPA in January 2023. The petition requests under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) that EPA require manufacturers and processors of polyvinyl alcohol (PVA) affiliated with EPA's Safer Choice certification program to fund and conduct health and environmental safety testing using independent, third-party scientists
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