News about renewable energy and electric vehicles
How to

What Makes Polyvinyl Alcohol Environment-Friendly?

Polyvinyl Alcohol is present in many everyday products

There have been various valuable inventions and discoveries over the centuries. And many of them have had a lasting impact on people’s lives and revolutionized the way we live. One such crucial discovery is polyvinyl alcohol, better known as PVA. This water-soluble synthetic polymer is used today in many everyday products, such as laundry pods and dishwashers, to name a few.

Especially in recent times, many companies have started incorporating environmental sustainability into their products. But despite its many applications, you might ask, ‘Is PVA environment-friendly?’ There are many conflicting reports on the environmental sustainability of PVA. Because of this, this compound’s environmental friendliness is a big topic of debate.

To help you better understand what makes PVA environment-friendly, below is an in-depth look at PVA and its properties:

What Is PVA?

Discovered in the early 1920s, polyvinyl alcohol is a water-soluble, colorless, and odorless synthetic polymer that PVA manufacturers use for different purposes, from food packaging to treating paper and textiles.

PVA is also known by other names, such as PVOH and PVAI. It’s manufactured through a process known as hydrolysis, saponification, or alcoholysis. The process entails dissolving polyvinyl acetate in alcohol like ethanol or methanol.

Polyvinyl Alcohol formula

Polyvinyl Alcohol formula, image source: Adobe

After that, an alkaline catalyst, like sodium hydroxide, is used to treat the compound to break down the acetate groups in the PVAc molecules while maintaining their long-chain structure. This consequently leads to the formation of PVA.

Some remarkable properties of this versatile material include the following:

  • Non-toxic
  • Tasteless
  • Water-soluble
  • Odorless
  • Biodegradable
  • Low hazard (Environmental Working Group or EWG)
  • Colorless
  • Flexible
  • Strong (bond strength)

These many appealing properties of PVA make its chemical composition highly versatile. When combined with other materials, PVA forms flexible and strong bonds, and some of the items it’s used to manufacture include:

  • Adhesives
  • Textile production in the strengthening of yarn
  • Paint
  • Eye drops
  • Eco-friendly food packaging materials
  • Agrochemicals
  • Contact lens lubricants
  • Dissolvable soap pods
  • Packaging for protein powder in pre-portioned packages
  • Conditioners and shampoos
  • Cartilage replacements
  • Fabrics
  • Pharmaceutical capsules
  • Spa and swimming pool chemicals
  • Papermaking and printing
  • Cosmetics
  • Laundry detergent sheets

There are many other applications of PVA besides those mentioned above, thanks to this material’s flexibility, high tensile strength, low toxicity, and air impermeability.

Is Polyvinyl Alcohol Environment-Friendly?

Yes, PVA is an eco-friendly material that doesn’t cause any negative impact on the environment. This is due to its non-toxic and 100% biodegradable nature. As a result, PVA can slowly break down into harmless material over time. This makes it not only safe for the environment but also for humans.

What Makes Polyvinyl Alcohol Safe?

There are several factors that make PVA safe for both humans and the environment, and these include:

1. It Doesn’t Contain Microplastic

There isn’t evidence that shows PVA is a microplastic. Microplastic refers to a tiny piece of plastic that’s smaller than five millimeters long and is toxic to aquatic life and bodies of water. Thus, there’s no need to worry that PVA could lead to microplastic contamination.

PVA is also safe because it doesn’t contain microplastic traces that get released into the environment as it breaks down. This means companies don’t need to worry about toxicity at the end of the life cycle of this synthetic polymer. This explains why many companies today are embracing the use of PVA to manufacture different products.

2. It Doesn’t Negatively Affect Humans

PVA isn’t harmful to humans because it is poorly absorbed by the gastrointestinal tract and is readily eliminated from the body. This means PVA doesn’t slowly accumulate in the body over time and lead to safety concerns for humans.

3. It Is Generally Recognized As Safe

This non-toxic nature of PVA better explains why most manufacturers use this synthetic polymer to manufacture most items used by humans. PVA’s approval by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for use as food packaging proves that it’s a low-hazard material. It is also classified as a ‘Generally Recognized As Safe’ (GRAS) ingredient based on scientific procedures.

4. It Is Water-Soluble

Another reason why PVA is eco-friendly is because of its water-soluble properties, even if the water is cold. This means the synthetic polymer dissolves quickly and doesn’t leave toxic microplastics or residue behind. As a result, it will dissolve entirely and wash down the drain. This means it won’t produce harmful microplastics at any point in its life cycle.

PVA’s sustainability is because of its low toxicity, unlike other materials, including low-density polyethylene (LDPE). It can also be broken down entirely by bacteria through the natural biodegradation process.

The use of detergent pods that contain PVA also helps promote environmental sustainability. It does this by necessitating less use of water during cleaning.

5. It Is Biodegradable

The breakdown of this synthetic polymer at the water treatment facilities is possible thanks to the presence of specific enzymes and microorganisms. This allows for the complete degradation of PVA to ensure it doesn’t cause any harm to the environment.

These unique attributes make PVA a preferred choice by many manufacturers over other synthetic polymers. Some critics argue that PVA is only partially eco-friendly as its degradation requires specific conditions. According to them, these conditions are only available in some wastewater treatment facilities in the United States. This then means that PVA is responsible for microplastic pollution.

But such arguments against PVA are far from the truth. A study by the American Cleaning Institute proves these critics wrong by showing beyond doubt that at least 60% of PVA is biodegradable. All this happens within the first 28 days. The remaining 30% later fully decomposes within 90 days or less, showing that PVA is 100% biodegradable.


Due to the synthetic nature of PVA, it’s easy to conclude that this compound is toxic to the environment. It’s also assumed to affect aquatic life once it finds its way into waterways. The breakdown of PVA is also said to release greenhouse gases that negatively impact the environment.

But all these claims have been proven to be false by research and tests, and this article has explained the reasons why PVA is environment-friendly. This better illustrates why many companies nowadays are switching to using PVA.

Article written by:

I am a writer and reporter for the clean energy sector, I cover climate change issues, new clean technologies, sustainability and green cars. Danny Ovy

© 2012 - 2024 -