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Is PVA biodegradable?

Welcome back to my series where I debunk the myths that Blueland have been trying to sell to the public regarding polyvinyl alcohol (PVA) – the stuff that surrounds our pods. If you followed our last blog, you will know that we tackled the questionable claim that PVA is in our drinking water, and the claim that PVA is found in breast milk. Now, we dive into Blueland's remaining claims that PVA is a form of plastic that poses challenges for disposal in WasteWater Treatment Plants (WWTPs).



If you're new to this blog, Blueland, another eco-friendly company that sells tablets, released a "Pods are Plastic Bill" initiative in February 2024. Their posts have been seen on social media, billboards, photoshoots, and even appeared on The Morning Show. Their bold stance? That the cleaning pods, which rival their own tablet products, contribute to plastic pollution.


Once we caught wind of these claims, I instantly reached out to our chemist. With confidence, they affirmed the eco-friendliness of the polyvinyl alcohol (PVA) in our pods.


So here I have been, a recent university graduate who works for a small youth-led company, looking into Blueland's (not-so-scientific) claims.


This is the third (and final) part of a short blog series that tackles the rest of Blueland's claims. So let me take you through the facts.


Blueland's THIRD False Claim

Blueland funded this study that focused on the emissions from laundry and dish detergent pods, specifically highlighting concerns about PVA's removal in WWTPs and its overall emissions.

Thankfully I had help to refute this. The people at American Cleaning Institute (ACI) put out this poster that talks about the Blueland myths that they are trying to give to the public. In this poster, they refute their points by sourcing independent (non-Blueland-funded) studies. For example, ACI tell us how, “The journal article cited in the Blueland petition [Rolsky and Kelkar] referenced data on true microplastics – not the water-soluble grade of PVA – and failed to acknowledge the substantial amount of existing biodegradation and safety data on water soluble PVA”.

I highly recommend everyone to check out ACI's poster as it is very informative.


Blueland also released this two minute video that summarized all of their previous claims but also made some more. Specifically, Blueland claim

polyvinyl alcohol (PVA) does not readily biodegrade, further alleging that companies obscure the fact that PVA is plastic by preferring terms like ‘disappear’ over ‘biodegradable’. According to this independent article from DeGruyter, it is said that, “the water-soluble film used for liquid detergent capsules is not a microplastic. This is because the film size is outside of the microplastic range, and the film is both water-soluble and biodegradable”.


Next, Blueland talks about how, “treatment facilities don’t have the ability to break down PVA” and how, “the PVA is found in human breast milk and public drinking fountains (this has already been refuted in our other blog article 1 and blog article 2). According to this independent article and this independent article, polyvinyl alcohol shows a high degree of biodegradability by demonstrating that polyvinyl alcohol undergoes significant mineralization. They do this with OECD 301B and 302B tests, which are specifically designed to mimic WasteWater Treatment Plant conditions.

Finally, Blueland talk about how, “PVA has the ability to absorb other toxic chemicals and make its way into our drinking water”. From the ACI poster, they address and say that, “the grade of PVA used for laundry detergents dissolves completely and biodegrades within hours of wastewater treatment, making it impossible for it to accumulate with other materials. There is nothing left for other materials to affix themselves to”.


So let's summarize.

Can WWTPs handle PVA?

YES! WWTPs can handle PVA as specific tests have been done that show PVA's high degree of biodegradability and that PVA undergoes significant mineralization.


Is PVA biodegradable?

YES! Independent scientific studies demonstrated multiple times according to OECD guidelines that the PVA used in detergent pods dissolves and biodegrades effectively.


Does PVA absorb toxic chemicals?

NO! The PVA used in detergents dissolves completely in wastewater treatment, meaning that no residue remains that harmful or toxic materials could attach to.



Why is Blueland Doing This?

There must be some reason why a multi-million dollar company like Blueland would put out this shaky science. It is believed by some to be a marketing maneuver.

By casting PVA in a negative light, Blueland not only positions itself as the superior choice but also increases their consumer demand for environmentally friendly options. Other corporations believe that Blueland "has an interest in preventing other companies from using PVA".


You will probably be surprised to find out that this isn’t the first time that Blueland has pushed for PVA to be banned. That’s right, Blueland tried this same thing back in 2022. However, this was quickly turned away for multiple reasons. The ACI called this maneuver by Blueland a “Disappointing Misinformation Campaign” and would go on to talk about how Blueland is ignoring “Decades of Real-World Science”.



As we conclude this series, it seems that studies cited by Blueland may not fully represent the type of PVA that is used in detergent pods. When looking at independent research and expert opinions, there is a lot of scientific evidence that supports the safety and biodegradability of PVA in detergent applications.



If you don't want to read more but are still unconvinced, look at this graphic that disproves a lot of what Blueland says, and also look at this link to learn more about the science behind PVA.


If you haven't read my other blogs that talk about Blueland's new bill, you can check them out below:

Here is the blog where we talk about how PVA is NOT found in breastmilk

Here is the blog where we talk about how PVA is NOT found in drinking water.




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