Bio-based materials in the detergents industry

What does ‘bio-based’ mean?

‘Bio-based’ means derived from biomass. Biomass is material of biological origin, excluding material embedded in geological formations and/or fossilized e.g. plants (whole or parts of), trees, algae, marine organisms, micro-organisms, animals, etc. Biomass can have undergone physical, chemical or biological treatment(s). The methods to determine and communicate "bio-based" as a characteristic are detailed in the specific standards of CEN/TC 411 (see below).

What is a ‘bio-based’ product’?

Bio-based products are wholly or partly derived from biomass. A bio-based product is normally characterised by the bio-based carbon content or the bio-based content. A bio-based product can be an intermediate, semi-finished or final product. The term "bio-based product" is often used to refer to a product which is partly bio-based. In those cases, the claim should be accompanied by a quantification of the bio-based content.

Are bio-based materials used in the detergents industry? 

Yes. In bio-based products, fossil-based ingredients are replaced and/or mixed with bio-based ones, e.g. plant derived oils can be used to produce surfactants.  One well-known example of bio-based ingredients in the detergent industry is enzymes. Enzymes are catalysts that increase the rate of chemical reactions and are used to ensure a higher degree of stain removal, whiteness, fabric and colour care, and overall cleaning performance. 

The detergents industry is also investing in optimising palm kernel oil as a bio-based raw material and is commitment to sustainable sourcing. Palm kernel oil derivatives are used as surfactants in detergents to ensure an adequate cleaning functionality as they attack and remove the dirt. 

Only two vegetable feedstocks i.e. coconut and palm oil have the chemical structure equivalent to petrochemicals for the manufacture of surfactants for detergents. Bio-based alternatives are not intrinsically more sustainable than fossil resources. Therefore, the benefits coming from an increased use of bio-based materials require a thorough life-cycle assessment to avoid any burden-shifting.      

Industry guidance

To support all the companies operating in the European detergents, cleaning and maintenance products industry sector using, or intending to use bio-based materials in final products and/or packaging material, A.I.S.E. has developed high-level principles for the industry. 

In addition to A.I.S.E.'s guiding principles, there are several other existing sets of guidance developed by value chain partners that can be of great help for companies to put these principles into practice. Beneath, we present a non-exhaustive list of existing certification schemes, standards and partners working on relevant issues. 

Certification schemes

Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO)

RSPO is a not-for-profit organisation that works worldwide to develop and implement global standards for sustainable palm oil.

International Sustainability and Carbon Certification (ISCC)

ISCC is an independent multi-stakeholder organisation providing a globally applicable certification system for the sustainability of raw materials and products. ISCC is a multi-feedstock system which can be used to certify all types of biomass, including agricultural or forestry raw materials, waste and residues.

Existing standards

There is a series of harmonised EN standards for bio-based products. The most relevant are listed here, more information is available via the CEN website

  • EN 16751:2016 - Bio-based products - Sustainability criteria
  • EN 16785-1:2015 - Bio-based products - Bio-based content - Part 1: Determination of the bio-based content using the radiocarbon analysis and elemental analysis
  • EN 16640 : 2017 - Bio-based products – Bio-based carbon content – Determination of the bio-based carbon content using the radiocarbon method 
  • EN 16848:2016 - Bio-based products - Requirements for Business to Business communication of characteristics using a Data Sheet
  • EN 16935:2017 - Bio-based products - Requirements for Business-to-Consumer communication and claims
  • EN 16785-2:2018 - Bio-based products - Bio-based content - Part 2: Determination of the bio-based content using the material balance method
  • prEN 17035-2018 - Surface Active Agents - Bio-based surfactants - Requirements and test methods
  • CEN/TR 17341:2019 - Bio-based products - Examples of reporting on sustainability criteria

Useful resources

  • Forum WaschenFactsheet on the use of palm (kernel) oils in detergents, cleaning and maintenance products in Germany (Sept. 2018) Download
  • EU Commission Expert Group on Bio-based Products Position on Bioeconomy Strategy and Action Plan Review and Revision (Aug. 2017) Download
  • WWF Deforestation and forest degradation–stepping up EU action (Feb. 2019) Read more

Stakeholder groups