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Plastic in Laundry Strips and Dishwasher Pods!

by Beth Dunlop 06 Jul 2023
Plastic in Laundry Strips and Dishwasher Pods!

What Exactly is “PVA”?

PVA (aka PVOH) stands for “Polyvinyl alcohol” and is a synthetic polymer (read: “Plastic”) that is increasingly being used in laundry, dishwasher and other cleaners in pod and strip form. 

Touted as dissolvable and biodegradable, PVA does dissolve, but does not easily biodegrade. An independent study that focused on the degradation of PVA in wastewater treatment plants (WWTP) was published in June 2021 in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, see study here: Degradation of Polyvinyl Alcohol in US Wastewater Treatment Plants and Subsequent Nationwide Emission Estimate.

The study suggests that over 75% of PVA persists in our waterways and our soil after it dissolves in laundry and dish washing machines, flows through WWTP and ultimately back into our environment via wastewater release or biosolids.

To completely biodegrade, PVA requires specific conditions, microorganism, enzymes and time, the combination of which are rarely possible in WWTPs in North America.

Picture sugar or table salt, both dissolvable in water, yet still existing in the water once dissolved. Constituents of PVA such as ethylene (a petroleum-based product), are similar, remaining in water (and biosolids) and causing potential harm:

1. When discharged into bodies of water it has the ability to foam due to its surface properties. This can inhibit oxygen transfer, causing irreparable harm to aquatic life.*


2. PVA has the potential to adsorb dangerous chemicals or contaminants, such as antibiotics, heavy metals, biocides, insecticides, herbicides, flame retardants, corrosion inhibitors, personal care products, and pharmaceuticals, at high concentrations, all toxic, carcinogenic and endocrine-disrupting compounds.* These can then concentrate up food chains, posing a threat to the environment. (Made worse by the fact that WWTPs are known to contain a variety of dangerous contaminants, creating a higher-risk situation for PVA particles passing through.)


3. PVA can leach into groundwater systems and mobilize heavy metals from sediments into water resources.*


Per the study, in the US alone over 20 billion PVA pods and strips are now used per year, equaling an estimated 17,200 metric tons, which is set to increase by approximately 4% per year (2018-2023). This estimate is possibly on the low side considering how many new products are coming to market in North America and the world using PVA. 

From what has been studied to date, it is clear that PVA causes harm as an environmental pollutant. We look forward to more research being done to monitor the biodegradability of PVA in the natural environment.    

*Sourced from “Degradation of Polyvinyl Alcohol in US Wastewater Treatment Plants and Subsequent Nationwide Emission Estimate”.

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