Polyvinyl alcohol (PVA) pods have been marketed as a sustainable and zero waste cleaning alternative. However, recent studies have shown that PVA may not be as environmentally friendly as previously thought. PVA is derived from petrochemicals and is technically a plastic. While it may not be a microplastic, PVA can still become something that may harm marine life. PVA is generally deemed “biodegradable,” but it may take years, decades, or even centuries to fully biodegrade.

Studies have shown that PVA is being found in the stomachs of amphipods from the deepest parts of Earth’s oceans, indicating its negative impact on marine life. While research has been published claiming that PVA is biodegradable in environmental conditions where it is discharged, most wastewater treatment plants are not designed to properly degrade PVA. This means that PVA residue can potentially enter groundwater, ecosystems, and the human food supply chain.

More than 8,000 tons of PVA residue is thought to enter the environment every year in the US alone, and it can also absorb heavy metals and pesticides, which may bring even more harm to aquatic species and interfere with crop yields. It is important for brands to present a clear image of the whole picture, including PVA’s not-so-clean aspects, and for consumers to be aware of the potential negative impact of PVA on the environment.