PVA Plastic: What You Need to Know

Earlier this week, Plastic Pollution Coalition and other nonprofit groups joined cleaning products company Blueland to petition the U.S. EPA to urgently study and regulate a type of plastic called polyvinyl alcohol (which is also referred to as “PVA” or “PVOH”).

PVA/PVOH has been produced industrially since the 1930s and is used for a wide variety of applications, including fibers for construction supplies; fishing gear; papermaking; cosmetics; industrial sprays, paints, and sealants; textile (clothing) sizing; packaging materials; food additives; pharmaceutical and medical products; and—quite commonly—film-coated detergent pods and sheets. In light of our petition, corporations that make and sell PVA/PVOH products have doubled down on asserting their material is safe and suggesting there is a “debate” over the safety of PVA/PVOH. But in reality, enough evidence exists to merit further investigation of the impacts of PVA/PVOH on human and ecological health. 

To set the record straight, we’ve put together this FAQ backed by science and common sense. Read on to learn the truth about PVA/PVOH.

1. Why am I finding conflicting information about PVA/PVOH?

Conflicting information about PVA/PVOH exists today for two key reasons. Corporations: 1) use greenwashing as a marketing tactic to sell potentially harmful products that we might not otherwise buy, and 2) have control of a scientific environment in which they both shape commonly accepted information and are largely protected from scientific and regulatory scrutiny.

Many highly visible scientific studies that appear favorable of PVA/PVOH, especially those demonstrating apparent “degradability,” are commonly commissioned by plastic and related industry trade groups seeking to sell PVA/PVOH products. Many cleaning products made with PVA/PVOH are marketed as “eco-friendly” because they appear to readily “dissolve” in water—seemingly bypassing issues of toxicity and persistence that other plastics face. 

Such favorable research findings help corporations sell more PVA/PVOH products, and receive passes from the U.S. EPA, FDA, and other regulatory agencies tasked with protecting human and environmental health. A lack of unbiased information, poor chemical regulatory environment, and corporations’ drive for profits prevent us from getting a clear picture of what PVA/PVOH is and what it actually does to the environment and our health. And, because it is everywhere, we deserve to know the truth.

2. Is PVA/PVOH biodegradable?

Even with decades of research, there is currently no definitive proof that PVA/PVOH is truly biodegradable. In fact, research on the textile industry in particular—a major consumer of PVA/PVOH, which is used to “size” or coat and protect woven fibers during manufacturing—suggests that PVA/PVOH plastic does not degrade, even in water; is commonly found in textile wastewater; and due to these concerns, should be replaced in this application with more benign alternatives.

Pure PVA doesn’t easily break apart and must be diluted by degradable plant starches and proteins to even appear to dissolve. Think about what happens when you mix salt with water: Just because you can’t see all the tiny grains of salt in the water as they dissolve doesn’t mean the salt doesn’t still exist. PVA/PVOH films like those used in dishwasher and laundry pods and sheets are designed to be similarly soluble in water. PVA/PVOH can be treated in a way (by running its main ingredient, polyvinyl acetate, through a process called hydrolysis) that makes its bonded particles break apart more easily and appear to “dissolve” in water— instead of remaining whole, visible, and separate from water. 

The EPA currently lists PVA/PVOH on its Safer Choice and Safer Chemical Ingredients lists. But a close look at research on PVA/PVOH and the EPA’s generous criteria for “safe” standards shows that PVA/PVOH is not verifiably nor consistently biodegradable. According to EPA standards, if 60% of a substance has degraded into carbon dioxide and water in 28 days, it passes its OECD 301 standard, and can be called ”readily biodegradable”—even though it is not necessarily clear what happens to the remaining mass and chemistry of this substance when it is diluted with water.

In the case of PVA/PVOH, the research recently cited by the American Cleaning Institute shows a wide range of performance when it comes to PVA’s supposed degradation in water only. However, a close look reveals flaws in the study ACI cites: It is industry driven, small in size, brief in duration, and lastly, does not actually define what it means by “biodegradable.”

As other research indicates, PVA/PVOH itself is not actually biodegradable by the common definition of the word. PVA/PVOH, while synthetic and made of fossil fuels, is commonly mixed with degradable additives, such as plant starches and proteins, or even nanosized clays and metals. The presence of these other substances and particles helps cleave apart intact PVA/PVOH plastic, helping it seem to disappear when it makes contact with water.

PVA/PVOH films like detergent pods and sheets are especially prone to causing pollution because they are discharged directly into your home’s wastewater system. From there, polluted water is sent back into the ground through your septic, cesspool, or sewer system (and in this case, usually to a sewage treatment plant). Because tiny plastic particles are extremely hard to capture, water could thereby remain polluted by PVA/PVOH and other plastics even after treatment—endangering our planet’s waterways and our health.

3. Is PVA/PVOH safe for people and the planet?

According to the EPA, and corporations and industries that make and sell PVA/PVOH, this plastic is currently labeled as “safe,” largely due to its apparent biodegradability. Yet there is a serious lack of unbiased, dedicated research on the human and environmental health effects of PVA: Health-related research on PVA/PVOH has almost exclusively been conducted on nonhuman animals such as rodents and dogs by PVA/PVOH producers. What little research has been done on humans shows concerning links to inflammation and irritation, especially when PVA/PVOH exposure occurs over a prolonged period. 

Despite clearly missing data on PVA/PVOH’s short-term and long-term human health and environmental effects, makers of this material advise on their own safety information sheets that their employees avoid breathing in, touching, consuming, and otherwise coming into contact with PVA/PVOH. With PVA/PVOH detected in human breast milk, it appears this plastic has the potential to accumulate in the environment or at least in human bodies where it could cause adverse health effects. Bioaccumulation of PVA has also been observed in carp fish over a short-term period. To prevent potential harm, much more research must be done to understand PVA/PVOH’s full range of effects on people, other animals, and the environment.

What’s more, PVA/PVOH and all other plastics are disproportionately produced in facilities intentionally placed in underserved low-income, rural, and BIPOC communities. This intentional poisoning of specific communities results in widespread health and environmental injustices, which the EPA has recently agreed to double down on. Allowing for continued production of all plastics—including PVA/PVOH—undermines the EPA’s initiative to seriously address injustice in the US. Producers of plastics release large quantities of greenhouse gases during manufacturing, in addition to toxic chemicals known to cause human health problems. PVA/PVOH production releases potent methanol gas, and often butyraldehyde (PVA/PVOH can be combined with this chemical to make polyvinyl butyral [PVB], another type of plastic, in the same facilities as PVA/PVOH).

4. Is there any way to find nontoxic, plastic-free detergents?

Healthy, eco-friendly alternatives to plastic PVA/PVOH pods and sheets exist. 

  • Make your own healthy, plastic-free laundry soap by combining 14 ounces of washing soda (sodium carbonate) with 14 ounces of borax (sodium tetraborate) or baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) with 4.5 ounces of natural castile soap flakes. Try to buy these ingredients in bulk, paper, or refillable containers. Mix these dry ingredients, and store in a sealed glass jar or metal tin. Use 1 tablespoon per small load, and 2-3 tablespoons per large load. 
  • Make your own healthy, plastic-free powdered dishwasher detergent by combining 1 cup washing soda, 1 cup baking soda, 1 cup food-grade citric acid powder, 1 cup kosher salt. Store in an airtight plastic-free container. Use 1 to 2 tablespoons per load of dirty dishes. You can turn this mixture into hardened dishwasher tabs by swapping the citric acid powder for 1 cup lemon juice, then let the mixture harden overnight in a reusable ice cube tray. Pop out and store in a plastic-free airtight container. Use 1 tablet per load of dirty dishes. PPC Notable Member Kathryn Nelson, also known as Plastic-Free Mermaid, shows you how to make a her homemade recipe in this video.
  • Make your own healthy, plastic-free dish soap for washing by hand by combining 1 cup unscented castile soap flakes, 6 ounces water, ⅓ cup baking or washing soda, and 10 drops of essential oil (optional). Store in a glass jar.
  • Use soap nuts to make zero-waste soap.
  • Our petition partner, Blueland, sells a laundry starter set with plastic-free laundry soap pods
  • When looking for pre-made laundry detergent, seek natural, powdered formulations without plastic ingredients and are sold in plastic-free packaging, such as those sold by PPC Members EarthHero and Meliora.
  • Visit a refill shop near you where you can find natural liquid or powdered laundry detergents. Use Plastic Free Future’s Reuse Map to find one near you.

5. What exactly is your petition asking? 

With our petition, we are emphasizing that there is currently a lack of accurate, unbiased information on PVA/PVOH and clear reasons to be concerned about its effects on human and environmental health. 

The plastics industry, and the petrochemical industry which fuels it, has long tapped into misinformation campaigns to mislead the public and regulatory bodies, enabling widespread production and pollution of plastic across our planet and in our bodies. It is ironic that the ACI has called our common-sense request to the EPA “misinformation,” while it continues to lean on clearly biased industry-produced research to make its case for continued production (and pollution) of PVA/PVOH and other plastics.

We are calling on the EPA to take swift and urgent action to study the full ecological and health impacts of PVA/PVOH to best protect people and our planet from potential harm.


Despite commitments to end plastic pollution, corporations like Nestlé, PepsiCo, and The Coca-Cola Company have only increased their plastic production, according to a new report by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation in collaboration with the UN Environment Programme.

The Global Commitment 2022 Progress Report is used to track the progress of corporations and governments around the world that have voluntarily committed to curbing plastic production and use. The Global Commitment 2022 has attracted more than 500 signatories representing 20% of all plastic packaging producers globally, including major consumer brands such as Nestlé, PepsiCo, The Coca-Cola Company, and Unilever, Walmart, Amcor, Berry Global, and Veolia.

The report found that these corporations will “almost certainly” not meet their own voluntary target of using plastic packaging that is 100% reusable, recyclable, or compostable by the year 2025. What’s more, instead of taking serious action to reach this target through product packaging redesign and implementation of systemic solutions, these corporations have only increased the production of new plastic.

In response, Plastic Pollution Coalition’s Co-Founder and Managing Director Julia Cohen said: 

This year’s Global Commitment Report reveals that many corporations that have ‘committed’ to reducing plastics production have not actually made any attempt to do so. This, despite the fact that plastic and its petrochemical ingredients are deadly to all life on Earth: contributing to climate change, spreading toxic chemicals, and helping to drive Earth’s most severe extinction event.

Hiding behind these false commitments, most major corporations have only increased their plastic production. Industries and corporations must stop prioritizing profit while exploiting people and polluting the planet. Instead, they should invest the fortunes they have made from others’ misfortunes into real solutions to address the crises they have created.

Julia Cohen, Plastic Pollution Coalition

This year, the United Nations has called for creation of a Global Plastics Treaty to hold industries, corporations, and governments accountable for plastic pollution. Such a treaty must be binding and legally enforceable in order to seriously and systemically address plastic pollution and implement non-toxic, zero-waste solutions. Learn more about plastic pollution facts and solutions, and find out how to take action here.

August 8, 2022 September 30, 2022


Break Free From Plastic’s global brand audit is a citizen science initiative that involves recording data on plastic waste to help identify the companies responsible for plastic pollution and hold them accountable.
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Via As You Sow

BERKELEY, CA—MAY 11, 2021—After engagement with As You Sow on reducing single-use plastic packaging, Walmart Inc., the world’s largest company by revenue and largest U.S. grocery retailer, has agreed to cut its use of virgin plastic by 2025. In addition to this commitment, As You Sow has received similar promises from four other major global brands in just the last two months — Keurig DrPepper, Mondelez International, PepsiCo, and Target.

Citing urgent new data on the growing plastic pollution problem, As You Sow filed shareholder proposals with 10 leading consumer goods companies and retailers for 2021, including Walmart, calling for commitments to cut use of plastic packaging. Walmart will disclose the size of a virgin plastic reduction goal later in 2021. The company used 1.2 million metric tons of plastic packaging in its private brands sales in 2019, according to data submitted to the New Plastics Economy Global Commitment initiative.

Based on As You Sow’s discussions with Walmart, the reductions will be significant and absolute cuts in plastic use, in alignment with its participation in the Global Commitment process. In recognition of the company’s commitment, As You Sow agreed to withdraw its shareholder proposal filed with the company.

“We are thrilled to have completed agreements with five leading global brands to slash use of virgin plastic in such a short time frame,” said Conrad MacKerron, senior vice president at As You Sow. “These are important acts of leadership by companies whose packaging contributes to the global plastic pollution crisis.” 

Two of the five companies have disclosed the size of their projected cuts. Keurig Dr Pepper will cut use of virgin plastic 20% by 2025. Mondelez committed to a 5% absolute reduction in virgin plastic, including a 25% cut in virgin plastic in its rigid plastic packaging. Research on the scope of commitments at PepsiCo, Target, and Walmart are still being finalized and will be disclosed later this year. 

As You Sow’s efforts have been catalyzed by a 2020 landmark study by Pew Charitable Trusts, Breaking the Plastic Wave, which modeled actions needed to reduce 80% of the plastic pollution that flows into oceans by 2040. The report said immediate and sustained new commitments throughout the plastics value chain are needed, including actions by brand owners, consumer goods companies, and retailers to reduce at least one-third of plastic demand through elimination, reuse, and new delivery models.

The largest cut in overall plastic use to date by a major consumer goods company was a 2019 commitment by Unilever to cut virgin plastic use by 50%, including a total elimination of 100,000 tons of plastic packaging by 2025.

“We encourage other companies to step forward and make bold, absolute cuts in plastic packaging,” said MacKerron. “Thousands of companies will need to step forward and make similar commitments to ensure significant global reductions in single use plastic packaging.”

Two shareholder proposals on cuts in plastic use are still pending and set for a shareholder vote at Amazon on May 26 and Kroger in June. 

Photo: A plastic Pepsi bottle and other plastic at Ballona Wetlands Ecological Reserve, Los Angeles, California. Photo by Taylor Lane and Ben Judkins.

Lawsuit seeks to hold major food, beverage, and consumer goods companies accountable for plastic pollution

Today, Earth Island Institute and Plastic Pollution Coalition, represented by Cotchett, Pitre, & McCarthy, filed the first major lawsuit against Crystal Geyser Water Company, The Clorox Company, The Coca-Cola Company, Pepsico, Inc., Nestlé USA, Inc., Mars, Incorporated, Danone North America, Mondelez International, Inc., Colgate-Palmolive Company, and The Procter & Gamble Company for polluting our waterways, coasts, and oceans with millions of tons of plastic packaging. The lawsuit was filed in California State Superior Court in the County of San Mateo alleging violations of the California Consumers Legal Remedies Act, public nuisance, breach of express warranty, defective product liability, negligence, and failure to warn of the harms caused by their plastic packaging. 

“The writing is on the wall that the system that has been created is not sustainable,” said Dianna Cohen, Co-Founder and CEO of Plastic Pollution Coalition. “For 10 years, Plastic Pollution Coalition has worked to solve our growing plastic pollution crisis. The time is now for corporations to stop polluting our planet with single-use plastic.”

“Corporate social responsibility is a key step in addressing our plastic pollution crisis,” said Julia Cohen, Co-Founder and Managing Director of Plastic Pollution Coalition. “Corporations need to urgently step up with both upstream and downstream solutions. This lawsuit is a necessary step toward a world free of plastic pollution and its toxic impacts on humans, animals, waterways, oceans, and the environment.”

“This is the first of what I believe will be a wave of lawsuits seeking to hold the plastics industry accountable for the unprecedented mess in our oceans,” said Josh Floum, Earth Island Institute’s Board President.  “These plastics peddlers knew that our nation’s disposal and recycling capabilities would be overrun, and their products would end up polluting our waterways.”

Through this lawsuit, Earth Island is seeking, among other things, to recover the significant resources it expends to prevent and mitigate the effects of plastic pollution on humans, wildlife, oceans, and waterways in California, where the impacts are particularly acute. For example, an October 2019 report by the San Francisco Estuary Institute revealed that the San Francisco Bay has some of the highest levels of microplastics measured anywhere to date, and many of the particles appear to be linked to single-use plastic items. And a June 2019 study by the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute found that microplastic concentration in Monterey Bay exceeds that of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, and that the primary source was plastic associated with food, beverage, and other consumer goods. The same study also found that small marine animals are consuming these microplastics, thus introducing the particles into the food web that feeds California. 

Mark Molumphy, a partner at Cotchett, Pitre & McCarthy, lead counsel for Earth Island, said “This is not just a disaster that future generations will have to deal with.  It is happening now and getting worse with each passing day. We are ingesting more and more plastic in the water we drink and the food we eat.” The complaint alleges that the average person ingests approximately 5 grams of plastic on a weekly basis – roughly the equivalent of a credit card. Furthermore, as described in the complaint, plastic alters the chemical composition of the ocean when it breaks apart into smaller pieces by releasing toxic chemicals into the surrounding water. Potential pollutants released through this process include bisphenol A and PS oligomer, two known hormone disruptors. Finally, plastic particles attract other toxins, such as polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), thus becoming more toxic to humans, wildlife, and the environment over time.  

Joe Cotchett, another partner at Cotchett, Pitre and McCarthy, said “The trillion dollar plastic industry is polluting our oceans, rivers and bays – the Government won’t stop them, but Earth Island is willing to take them on –“

“The products that we are targeting in our lawsuit are contained in plastic packaging that is designed to be used for a short period of time, sometimes just a few minutes. And yet, this packaging pollutes our bodies from one generation to the next, and our planet for centuries,” said Earth Island’s General Counsel Sumona Majumdar. “The Coca-Cola Company and our other defendants churn out millions of tons of plastic packaging each year and want us to believe that it is all being recycled. It’s a misinformation campaign, similar to those used by Big Tobacco, Big Oil, and Big Pharma. Now is the time to hold Big Plastic similarly accountable.”

For almost forty years, Earth Island Institute has developed and supported projects that counteract threats to the planet’s biological and cultural diversity, while also building the next generation of environmental leaders and educating the public on environmental issues. Earth Island also plays a leading role in the fight to protect our oceans, coasts, and marine life.

Earth Island has filed this case in its own right and on behalf of the following sponsored projects:

●     Plastic Pollution Coalition, found in 2009, is a growing global alliance of more than 1,000 organizations, businesses, and thought leaders in 75 countries working toward a world free of plastic pollution and its toxic impacts on humans, animals, waterways, oceans, and the environment.

●     The International Marine Mammal Project is one of the leading groups fighting to protect dolphins, whales, and the ocean environment.

●     Shark Stewards works to restore ocean health by saving sharks from overfishing and the shark fin trade, and protecting critical marine habitat through the establishment of marine protected areas and shark sanctuaries. As part of this effort, it launched a marine debris prevention effort that regularly conducts cleanups and quantifies marine debris in the San Francisco Bay Area.

●     1000 Fountains is building a network of one thousand drinking fountains throughout San Francisco in order to provide consumers with alternatives to single-use plastic bottles. 

A press conference will be held at 10:30 a.m. on Thursday, February 27, 2020, at the Berkeley Recycling Center, 669 Gilman Street, Berkeley, CA. Please meet on Second Street, just north of Gilman Street. The Ecology Center pioneered curbside recycling in 1973 and is the longest running curbside recycler in the nation. “Companies need to take responsibility for the pollution they have created,” said Martin Bourque, Executive Director of the Ecology Center. “From the shoreline to the recycling sorting line, Big Plastic has contaminated our ecosystems and recycling system. Its time for them to clean up their mess.”

Filed complaint available here.

By Arlene Karidis

When United Airlines recently replaced its “Fly the Friendly Skies” banners at Chicago O’Hare International Airport, they partnered with Columbia College Chicago and Re:new to upcycle the fabric into durable travel bags, which United sells online. This program is one of many innovative ideas some airlines have devised to better manage their solid waste—and in some cases, capitalize on it.

Many initiatives follow a 2010 report by nonprofit Green America detailing how the major U.S. airlines were doing at recycling waste. At the time, Green America graded most of them with a “D” or “F” and recommended they shoot for a 2015 goal of recycling 70 percent of solid waste, generated in the air. In the same year of the bad report cards, disposal of aircraft waste cost the industry $20 to $26 million. The recyclable waste had an estimated market value of $18 million to $26 million, noted trade organization Airlines for America (A4A).

Related: A flight attendant reports on the ugly truth about airplanes and plastic pollution.

Three years later, A4A partnered with Airports Council International-North America to identify how the industry could better manage waste cost-effectively. After much research, the two organizations released industry guidelines and suggestions—from purchasing projects to facilitate recycling and reduce waste, to suggestions for collecting and sorting in flight to avoid costlier operations on the ground.

There are no figures to show if, since the release of the trade guidelines, any airlines have met Green America’s suggested 70 percent recycling goal. Several airlines have adopted system-wide in-flight recycling operations and also recycle on the ground. Some launched ‘green teams.’ Others have entered interesting partnerships to divert from landfill dumping.

In addition to initiatives like upcycling old banners, United has recycled 27.8 million pounds of aluminum cans, paper and plastic from flights and facilities. American Airlines worked with Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport to expand recycling in offices and break rooms and to make recycling bins more accessible to ramp workers and cleaners.

Some airlines are partnering with recyclers to “de-tax” landfills and sometimes generate revenue. They’ve paired up with solid waste managers to collect and salvage old oil, metals, and aircraft windows, and are upcycling tens of thousands of pounds of life vests, carpet and leather seat covers to lighten the landfill load. In 2014, Delta posted a fairly meaty progress report highlighting a 14 percent reduction in hazardous waste generation since 2013, system-wide. And its in-flight recycling volume increased by 6.8 percent since 2013.

On the downside, nonhazardous waste increased by 27 percent system-wide in that same timeframe. Despite Southwest Airlines’ increase in flights—recently adding international travel—it is making headway on the waste management front. Though, like some of the other airlines, Southwest still generates more tons of hazardous waste than it recycles.

While there are no comprehensive figures to reflect how the airline industry at large is doing, they are getting greener for each mile that they fly, said Green America Co-Executive Director Todd Larson. “But the issue,” he said, “is as they fly more people, their overall environmental impacts are still high and growing.”

This article has been used with permission from Waste Dive.

Photo: ldifranza / Foter.com / CC BY-SA