A very real problem of the modern age is that we have too much information and too little time (and not much inclination) to research the research. This is what drove the recycling myth - the plastic industry told us they had the solution to plastic waste and were lying all the way to the bank. We call this blatant misinformation greenwashing, but the reciprocal deception also exists; sometimes companies seek to smear competitors by misinformation about sustainability. Let’s talk about PVA, one of the ingredients that allows laundry sheets and pods to dissolve in water. 

Laundry sheets or strips and pods have been lauded as convenient, mess-free alternatives to traditional liquid and powder detergents. Yet, like any new technology, questions always arise about sustainability. Lately, there's been a lot of attention on a petition submitted to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), sparking conversations about the environmental implications of laundry innovations. Blueland, a company producing eco-friendly cleaning tablets, pushed for Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) Section 4 Testing of polyvinyl alcohol (PVA), a significant ingredient in these products. Their aim? To evaluate PVA's safety for both human health and the environment. They had a number of plastic pollution advocacy groups sign on.

The petition raised concerns about the "plastic film" covering laundry pods, arguing that it doesn't fully break down in water as claimed.  Advocates urged the EPA to mandate health and environmental safety tests for PVA, also known as PVOH, which forms the pod's casing and is also used in laundry sheets. The petition also calls on the EPA to remove the compound from its Safer Choice and Safer Chemical Ingredients lists. You can read the scientific study that was used to back this petition. It's worth noting "This research was funded in part by Blueland" appears on the footnote of that study. The EPA also rejected the petition on April 21, 2023. 

The reason behind the rejection for the petition says a lot. The EPA “finds the petitioners have not incorporated available existing information related to their request, or adequately indicated that gaps were located for data needed in order for EPA to make a decision using the best available science.” The EPA also noted that "the petition cites five blogs and eight peer-reviewed journal articles, mostly focused on the environmental impacts of microplastics rather than the soluble PVA used in Safer Choice-certified products." Here is a great article from an impartial law office that explains the rejection in detail.

Read more about: EPA Denies Petition Seeking TSCA Section 4 Testing of PVA

First of all, what comes to question is whether the EPA put this substance on the SAFER CHOICE list without science? Um, no. But first, what exactly is PVA, and why is it causing such a stir? Polyvinyl alcohol, PVA or PVOH, is a water-soluble polymer commonly used in the film covering laundry pods and strips. Its ability to dissolve in water is one reason it's selected for these products, ensuring the film breaks down during washing, leaving minimal residue. Is it plastic? Yes, sort of, and it is currently made with fossil fuels, but can also be made with bio-ethylene from corn or sugars. The real kicker is that the type of PVA used in laundry products, our laundry sheets, and the pharmaceutical industry is completely soluble. It dissolves completely in water. The fact that PVA is used for human consumption also says a lot. It’s been deemed harmless by not only the EPA but also the FDA and used in contact lenses, eye wetting drops, surgical sponges, wound dressings, etc. Here's a link if you'd like to read more.

While I understand, both the EPA and FDA have their own issues that have caused consumer distrust over the years, there is no reason to believe the decades-long testing that has already been conducted on the dissolvability of PVA to be untrue. Here is a great article that links SIX peer reviewed, published scientific articles about the biodegradability of the specific PVA used in detergent pods and sheets.

So what is all the fuss about? As with all things chemical, there are many different types of PVA used for all manner of things and not all polyvinyl alcohol is soluble. The non soluble material has been accused in the study funded by Blueland as being a plastic that could break down into micro or nanoplastics. We know that is bad for our Mother Earth. But the EPA denied that petition because the type of PVA used in laundry products and our laundry sheets IS soluble. Numerous studies have confirmed this, and that it completely biodegrades in waste water treatment or the environment within 90 days. 

So, with all this information, are laundry sheets or pods a more ME friendly choice? Or, is Blueland just trying to muddy the waters to promote their tablets? As we seek eco-friendly options in our daily lives and concerns about plastic pollution and environmental impact on the rise, the quest for greener laundry solutions is more pressing than ever. It's a nuanced topic with a lot of scientific jargon to decipher but only one study that seems contradictory. Ultimately, we just have to make a choice that aligns with our values and remember, progress, not perfection.

Let's explore laundry sheets a little further:

  • Laundry sheets often come in minimalist, lightweight packaging, which reduces plastic waste with each use. This reduces a substantial amount of plastic waste generated by traditional detergent packaging.
  • Laundry sheets are super lightweight and compact compared to liquid or powder detergents. This means they require less fuel for transportation, leading to lower emissions during shipping. Additionally, their smaller volume reduces the need for storage space, further minimizing transportation-related emissions.
  • Many laundry sheets including our own contain biodegradable and plant-based ingredients, minimizing the use of chemicals and their environmental impact. In particular, we never use dioxane which is found in Tide and other household products which has been found to be harmful to the environment and our health due to its classification as a human carcinogen and toxicity to both the liver and kidneys.
  • Laundry sheets also require less water to produce compared to liquid detergents. With water scarcity becoming a pressing issue, every drop saved contributes to conservation efforts.

Additionally, it's essential to consider the entire lifecycle of a product when assessing its sustainability as well as the transparency of the company. While laundry sheets may offer several eco-friendly benefits, they're not without their drawbacks. Some critics point out that the manufacturing process for laundry strips still involves energy-intensive processes and emissions.

There is NO such thing as a perfect sustainable product, and we always encourage progress over perfection all day everyday. 

Ultimately, whether laundry sheets are a more sustainable option depends on various factors, including your individual priorities and values. As consumers, we have the power to drive change by making informed choices about the products we use. Whether you opt for laundry sheets, traditional detergents, or other eco-friendly alternatives, every decision counts towards creating a more sustainable future.

It's up to you to decide. Let us now your thoughts in the comments.



Plastic-Free Living Blog by Me Mother Earth may contain testimonials or reviews by contributor writers. These testimonials reflect the real ­life experiences and opinions of such users. However, the experiences are personal to those particular users, and may not necessarily be representative of all users of our products and/or services. We do not claim, and you should not assume, that all users will have the same experiences.

Me Mother Earth was created by Amanda Runkle and Alberto Gomes who aren’t experts, just two Mother Earth loving humans who share their plastic-free tips and advice with the help of contributor writers. The various DIY and zero waste methods, suggestions, and tutorials on Me Mother Earth are not error proof. Extra precautions and additional research are always advised and Me Mother Earth cannot be held responsible for your personal health or the outcomes from any of the articles shared on our Blog.

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