Pass the PVA, Please

Pass the PVA, Please

When the kids were little I think I did a hundred loads of laundry a week.  Okay, that’s an exaggeration, but I easily did a few loads every couple days, depending on their activity levels.  At that time, I was a big fan of the large laundry detergent containers with the built-in spigots.  I positioned the detergent on the shelf above the washing machine, pressed the button and let the river flow right into the machine to the count of three, released the button, shut the lid, and voilà, a great and efficient system with no need to get laundry soap all over the little plastic cup that came with it.  

Enter the manufacturer, in this case Proctor and Gamble (they were first), who, on a constant quest to improve their products and packaging, developed the Tide pod.  Everyone makes them now for laundry and dishwasher soap — a pre-measured dose of detergent, stain-remover and brightener all in one.  So simple.  So elegant.  So easy!  Toss in a pod, maybe two, depending on the size of the load, shut the lid, and you’re done.  No over-pouring or under-pouring, no counting to three, just the correct amount every time.  No fuss, no muss, no spilled liquid detergent, no rinsing out the little plastic cup.  It was fantastic, economical, the most efficient distribution system going, an example of a perfect improvement.

Then it hit me.  The “package” that the pod came in was not a perfect delivery system — it was plastic, and that sure couldn’t be a good contribution to my washing machine’s effluent.  So I did a little research and at first, all I could find were the various manufacturers’ claims that the product was safe.  The outside casing of these pods is made of polyvinyl alcohol, or PVA, also known as PVOH, a synthetic polymer and hydrophilic substance, meaning that it dissolves in water. 

Now excuse me if I don’t always believe what the manufacturers say.  We’ve all been duped before, right? — they said PFAS was perfectly safe and look at the mess that has become — so I asked a couple chemist friends to clarify, but no one could say with certainty although they all promised to look further.  Despite follow ups, I couldn’t get a confirm or deny.  That was about a year ago, and since I was pretty busy at the time, I shelved the topic.  Then a few weeks ago I was talking to my mentee who has a science background and I mentioned my polyvinyl alcohol conundrum.  

“Isn’t that what they make liquid tears from?” she asked.

In fact, it was.  They call it artificial tears, and it’s available over the counter.  Feeling better — surely manufacturers wouldn’t sell a product known as artificial tears if it left a plastic residue in your eyes — but not totally convinced, I dug deeper and apparently, it is true!  Polyvinyl alcohol is a water soluble plastic compound that completely breaks down in water leaving no microplastics residue.  See here and here.

 Given that we now we have microplastics in our tea bags, in every animal that’s been studied, in our bodies, and in our beer, this was indeed good news and something that seems like an environmental asset rather than a liability.  Finally, some good news on the plastics front. Also, good to know that my desire for clean clothes is not adding to the plastics mess.  PVA costs more to manufacture than regular plastic, but we humans and the earth we live on are worth it. 

Kudos to the manufacturers for this great breakthrough.  Let’s keep it going.

Happy Pi Day!

pam lazos 3.14.21

About Pam Lazos

writer, blogger, environmentally hopeful
This entry was posted in plastics and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

28 Responses to Pass the PVA, Please

  1. Susan Scott says:

    missed out on this one Sherlock, but goodness me, a yes or a no? xx

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I was slightly alarmed to read about the artificial tears as I use them frequently every day due to my chronic pain condition! How have I never thought to research what goes into making them?! I guess I was busy with the kids… Thanks for sharing your insights 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  3. jkaybay says:

    Hey Pam,
    A bigger problem than the PVA itself is the monomer that’s used to make it – vinyl acetate is “harmful to aquatic life with long lasting effects.”
    Sorry to bring bad news but (at least in my opinion) the use of vinyl acetate to make the PVA constitutes a hazard that’s not worth the benefit of the pods. Here’s my post on the pods: https://greenstarsproject.org/2017/11/13/are-laundry-arial-tide-pods-sustainable/

    Liked by 2 people

  4. hilarymb says:

    Hi Pam – interesting … and I’m so pleased I’m here reading. I had horrors about the artificial tears – so was very glad to see that all is well – well, as well as it could be. Thanks for your research and constant searching … all the best – Hilary

    Liked by 1 person

  5. That’s great news Pam. I don’t usually use them for the laundry, but I should now. I do recycle the container the laundry detergent comes in, but the lid is not. Thank you for looking into this and educating us 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Annika Perry says:

    Pam, kudos to you for your diligence and investigative skills. I just assumed it was plastic and never used them – now I know a lot more and can feel reassured. It is frightening about the microplastics all around us and yes, even in teabags! A great informative post, Pam!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Linda Schaub says:

    This line in your post says it all “but we humans and the earth we live on are worth it.” Your idea was ingenious though Pam … I suddenly wish I had a shelf over the washer. I used to pour it into smaller bottles and that was just plain messy.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. I wondered the same thing but satisfied myself that it dissolved so couldn’t be plastic. I like your analysis much better.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Suzanne R says:

    Wow! Great to know, Pammy. I shall rejoice in getting rid of the huge plastic bottle of liquid and reduce some of the waste load by using the smaller pod containers. Win, win!!!

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Whew! For a minute, I thought you were going to tell us that artificial tears would make you grow horns or something. My eye doctor insists I use them when my contacts dry my eyes out. If you find out they aren’t safe, please post it.

    Liked by 2 people

  11. Thanks for sharing this info, Pam. I didn’t change to the Tide pod, believing that it was more plastic waste.

    Liked by 2 people

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