A.I.S.E. research on the biodegradability of polyvinyl alcohol based film

A.I.S.E. research on the biodegradability of polyvinyl alcohol (PVA) based film used for capsules for liquid detergents has been published in Tenside Surfactants Detergents (Volume 58, Issue 2) and is now available via open access.

This peer-reviewed publication, developed with the support of Henkel, Kuraray, McBride, Procter & Gamble, Reckitt and Unilever, reports biodegradation data for the water-soluble grades of polyvinyl alcohol (PVOH) or (PVA) that are most commonly used for laundry detergents’ capsule films.

In summary:
  • Ready biodegradability screening test data on six technical (commercial) PVOH or PVA film materials were confidentially collected, anonymised, and aggregated for assessment.
  • These materials represent a range of PVOH or PVA films currently on the market.  These films include structural modifications and auxiliary ingredients, required to meet performance and safety requirements for this specific part of the detergents market.
  • Substantial variability between the results of biodegradation studies on different films was reported. Some materials fully met the criteria for ready biodegradation. Other materials underwent biodegradation at a lower rate and did not fulfil these criteria.  Nevertheless, for these materials the biodegradation process continued, and the biodegradation threshold was well exceeded subsequently as part of an enhanced test protocol. 
  • Modelling across all aggregated data suggests that a total extent of biodegradation of 60 % was reached after 28 days. 

Does Laundry Cause Plastic Pollution?

The ready biodegradability data on PVOH or PVA films used for laundry detergents (as collected, aggregated, and reported in this paper) confirm the information in literature. Highly soluble PVOH or PVA biodegrades in an aqueous environment and meets all regulatory safety criteria and does not contribute to plastic pollution or microplastic pollution (see 1). This applies to all laundry detergents that come in a capsule including non-biological laundry detergent, biological laundry detergent, allergenic laundry detergent and baby laundry detergent.

The PVOH or PVA film of laundry detergents’ capsules was shown to be biodegradable in OECD screening test conditions. Despite variable biodegradation rates between studies and materials, all films were found to meet the criteria for biodegradability in these stringent studies - which offers definitive and conclusive evidence of their actual biodegradability in the environment.

This research and these findings have been substantiated by other scientific journals and legal organisations:-

  • Menzies, Wilcox, Casteel and McDonough’s (2022) study (see 2) found that laundry-application grade PVA undergoes extensive biodegradation in two commonly used and accepted standard methods. This article also supports the position that microorganisms found in treatment plants and in river water are capable of biodegrading PVA/PVOH.
  • Earlier this year, (April 2023) The United States Environment Protection Agency (EPA) denied a petition brought by Blueland, Plastic Pollution Coalition and other partners in January 2023, requesting under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) that the EPA should require manufacturers and processors of polyvinyl alcohol (PVA) (affiliated with EPA's Safer Choice certification programme) to fund and conduct health and environmental safety testing using independent, third-party scientists. The Safer Choice programme is a voluntary EPA programme that certifies cleaning and other products made with ingredients that meet criteria for human health and the environment and manages these safer ingredients on the SCIL. 
The petition also requested, and was denied, under the Administrative Procedure Act (APA) that the EPA update the status of PVA on EPA's Safer Chemical Ingredients List (SCIL) from "green circle” to "grey square” until the testing is complete and reviewed by EPA (Source). The EPA found the petitioners did not provide the necessary evidence for the Agency to rule in their favour or take the action requested.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. When referring to films, what are laundry capsules made from? 

Laundry detergents’ films are predominantly made of Polyvinyl Alcohol based polymers (or PVA for short). The film completely dissolves upon contact with water and does not contribute to microplastic pollution (see 1). Innovative technology is used to ensure the film remains strong when dry (helping you safely store the detergent until your next wash), but rapidly dissolves when it hits the water.  


2. Are laundry detergents’ film biodegradable?

The water-soluble films used in single-dose detergents completely dissolve upon contact with water, do not contribute to microplastic pollution and are designed to be safe for the environment. The water-soluble film meets all regulatory safety criteria. The film also meets the OECD 301B criteria for biodegradability, which is widely used by regulatory agencies around the world. 

3. What is Polyvinyl Alcohol?

Polyvinyl Alcohol is a polymer made from Ethylene Gas and Acetic Acid. These are both very common ingredients found in everyday life. Ethylene Gas is what makes your bananas ripen in your fruit bowl, and a dilute form of Acetic Acid is used in household vinegar. Other common ingredients include naturally sourced materials like glycerol (derived from vegetable oils) to increase flexibility, surfactants like those commonly found in soaps and shampoos to improve solubility and processing aides like silica that is found in most toothpastes.  

3. Is PVA plastic? Do laundry capsules create microplastics?

Numerous journal articles, technical reports and government agency evaluations provide strong supporting evidence for the safety of the water-soluble film, which completely dissolves upon contact with water during your wash, meets regulatory safety criteria and does not contribute to plastic or microplastic pollution. The safe use of this PVOH / PVA film is well documented and it is commonly used in many consumer products including food, medicines, and beauty items. The safety and use of this PVOH / PVA material is documented and recognised by the USA Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) – who give PVOH / PVA Safer Choice status – the USA Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and the European Medicines Agency (EMA). 


(1) As per EU restriction on Synthetic Polymeric Microparticles, Commission Regulation (EU) 2023/2055 amending Annex XVII to Regulation (EC) No 1907/2006 (REACH).

(2)  Jennifer Menzies, Ashley Wilcox, Kenneth Casteel, Kathleen McDonough, "Water soluble polymer biodegradation evaluation using standard and experimental methods”,