What is PVA and is it sustainable?

A Drop in the Ocean Tacoma Zero Waste Sustainable Living Blog What is PVA and is it sustainable?
Listen to the audio of this post here:

This post first appeared in our weekly Make Waves Mondays email series on August 2, 2021.

Hello, friend
! How was your weekend?

I snuck away for a short weekend trip with a friend and it was just what I needed. TBH, I probably could’ve used one more day away from home, but being away at all was so, so nice. I’m feeling refreshed and ready to start the new month with a bang!

And since we’re starting with a bang - we’ve got some big things happening in the zero waste and A Drop in the Ocean worlds. In my eternal quest to be completely transparent with you, today’s post will take you behind the scenes of running a zero waste shop.

In summary, we’ve added new dishwasher pods to the shop! But there’s a lot that happened to get us here.

A little background…

I’ve personally been on the fence about Dropps products since they started making waves in the zero waste world. They were touted as the ultimate sustainable solution for laundry and dishes, but I was so confused why everyone jumped on board without questioning the PVA (or PVOH; polyvinyl alcohol) coating. Surely this wasn’t the perfect solution they were made out to be? 

All of the zero waste shops started adding them to their product lines, sustainability influencers were adding their affiliate links to their blogs, and in every FB group they were the top-recommended dish and laundry product.

Eventually, I came to the conclusion that it was the ingredients in Dropps that made them better than other pods. The ingredients rank so much higher on the Environmental Working Group database than the pods you’ll find in big-box stores. And when the ingredients are going straight into our water systems, that’s really freaking important.

But I still wasn’t ready to bring them into the shop.

In 2019, one of our favorite vendors added dishwasher pods to their product lineup. They’re handmade, small batch with just a few ingredients, local, and PVA-free. I was over the moon. They quickly became one of our best sellers and I was so, so pleased with them.

A Drop in the Ocean Sustainable Living Zero Waste Shop

And I still am. 

But they’re not working for everyone. That happens; not every product will work for every person at every time. I’m not giving up the original dishwasher pods, but I wanted to find an alternate option to add to our lineup.

So I revisited Dropps. And I did some digging and I couldn’t find any studies that showed Dropps or the PVA coating were causing harm to the environment. Believe me, I tried

The studies basically all said the same thing - there’s no evidence that polyvinyl alcohol (a synthetic polymer designed for biodegradability) is harmful to the environment at this time, and more research needs to be done. (PS - Every scientific study ends with “more research is needed.” So that’s not new.)

So, I turned to our EcoWarrior Pod. I asked how you all felt about Dropps, and how you’d feel if we stocked them in the shop. Half of you responded you already use them or want to try them, and the other half already have another solution that works for you.

We ordered the Dropps!

After doing the research, reading the reviews, listening to what other shop owners have said about them, and reviewing the responses to the poll in the EcoWarrior Pod, I decided to bring in Dropps.

I ordered them a couple weeks ago and finally got them in-hand a week ago.

A Drop in the Ocean Tacoma Zero Waste Sustainable Living Shop Dishwasher Pods (Dropps)

Then, the newsletter…

Two days after I got 800 unscented Dropps dishwasher pods in-hand, a Dropps competitor apparently sent a newsletter blast to their customers and retailers about a new study examining PVA/PVOH in dish and laundry pods.

The newsletter caused quite the stir in the zero waste shop owner community. So many other shop owners were shocked by the newsletter and decided to pull the products from their shelves almost immediately.

Since I didn’t personally receive the newsletter, I asked for the citations given in the newsletter. One was a webpage from another company that produces pods explaining what PVA is, one was about plastics recyclability (with no mention of polyvinyl alcohol), and the third was a newly-published scientific study regarding the biodegradability of PVA.

My science background went into overdrive as I read the study. Time to put my graduate degree to work!

I was completely unsurprised by anything in the study. Even the article itself mentioned that there wasn’t really any new information, it didn’t accurately represent how PVA behaves in natural environments, and, again, that more research should be done.

Basically, the article pointed out that PVA doesn’t biodegrade in the same way something like a banana peel would. Which, for me, wasn’t surprising. It’s still a synthetic polymer.

The red flag for me, though, came at the end of the article. It was paid for by another competitor to Dropps. This company doesn’t distribute their products, meaning the only place you can purchase their products is through their own website. This company has a whole lot of incentive to pay for a study that they can use to indirectly attack their biggest competitor and keep a larger share of the already small market on their website - likely leading to even more sales of their other products. It’s actually a brilliant tactic on their part. And add on that the study was initially shared by another competitor… Oh man. 

A Drop in the Ocean Tacoma Zero Waste Sustainable Living Shop Dishwasher Pods (Dropps)

Moving Forward

I feel no differently about Dropps now after reading this article than I did a month ago.

Are they the ultimate solution to zero waste dishwashing? No, nor have they ever been.

Are they a better alternative than something like Cascade pods? Yes, absolutely.

I will always advocate for our PVA-free, locally-sourced, handmade dishwasher pods first. But if they don’t work for you and your dishwasher and your water source, we have options for you.

And as new products become available and new research is conducted, we’ll pay attention and we’ll make adjustments as necessary.

I have really high standards for all of our products at A Drop in the Ocean. I don’t add something to our shop because everyone else is doing it or because it’s the most well-known option. I’m always gonna do the research, test the products, and search for local alternatives or smaller brands. I’m always going to be transparent with you.

We do things differently here. And I’m damn proud of that.

Zero waste and sustainability is not black-and-white. There is no one-size-fits-all solution. Every single thing we do every single day has an impact on the world around us. All we can do is the best we can, when we can, where we can - and advocate for larger changes around us.

So tell me, friend... It’s the beginning of a new month. What one change will you make this month to live lighter on this big blue planet of ours?

Thanks for being you, my friend.

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  • Krystina @ A Drop in the Ocean

    @Leslie – Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts on Dropps and PVA. Like I said in the blog post, I agree 100% – they’re definitely not the best solution out there, but they’re better than a plastic jug of radioactive blue detergent.

    That’s why we only sell one Dropps product (the dishwasher pods), and have a PVA-free option for that available as well (https://adropintheoceanshop.com/products/pva-free-dishwasher-detergent-pods). I’ll always encourage someone to choose the PVA-free pods first, and will never sell Dropps laundry pods because our powder detergent works better and is truly 100% zero waste.

    It’s not a perfect solution by any means, which is why I wrote this post, to be transparent in our choice to continue selling this one PVA product. Thank you so much for reading and sharing your thoughts! 💙

  • leslie

    I’ve been a Dropps subscriber for years because they consistently use “natural ingredients” in their advertising so I never questioned it. I love the minimal+recyclable packaging, and I felt good about my choice. Until I recently started seeing the questions about PVAs. You see, I have been working my ass off for the past 2-1/2 years on a PCB abatement project that took 10 years to get EPA approval. I know what happens while “more studies are needed” to determine safety of these microscopic compounds, and I’m not super interested in waiting around for convenience sake. Can’t do it. I reached out to Dropps. They replied with reference to “misinformation campaign” – probably related to that same study paid for by their “competitors” that you refer to. Fair enough, but it doesn’t change the fact that their competitors offer products that do not contain PVAs, and they are smart to market and support that, while “further studies are needed”. Furthermore, I find it troublesome that Dropps would claim a “misinformation campaign” whole they claim their products are “natural”. It is this misleading marketing that will likely steer me away from Dropps. PVAs may be perfectly safe for humans to swallow in a pill, but dumping massive quantities into the wastewater systems because they are safe on a pill, is irresponsible. Just my 2 cents. We don’t always have to take the easy way out. I’ve loved using my Dropps products, and felt good about it. Now I feel mislead. Is it a better solution than a plastic jug of pods at the grocery store? Yes, much better. But it’s not what they claim it is, and I can do better.

  • Krystina @ A Drop in the Ocean

    @Patrice – I wouldn’t say it’s “good” or “bad.” As with everything sustainability-related, there’s a lot of gray area. Personally, I choose to avoid PVA as much as possible, but I do still use Dropps dishwasher pods because they work best for my dishwasher. But if there’s another option that works better or the same and doesn’t contain PVA, I’ll always go for that instead.

    For laundry detergent in particular, I use the laundry detergent we sell in our shop (https://adropintheoceanshop.com/products/refillable-natural-laundry-detergent). It’s 100% plastic- and PVA-free, leaves behind zero residue even in cold water, and cleans like a champ. Plus, it’s packaged in a glass jar that we’ll pay to get back from you when it’s empty so we can keep it in circulation ♻ I’ve been using it for 5+ years and have no plans to change!

  • Patrice Notaro

    So is PVA good or bad?? Using Kind laundry sheets now and just found out the have PVA! Jesus can’t everyone just make clean products? It should be the law!

  • Krystina

    Hi Howard! I’m glad to hear you’ve found a solution that works for you! However I want to note that laundry sheets are also made with PVA; not just pods. So if PVA is a concern for you, I’d encourage you to take a look at the ingredients list in the sheets and maybe give something like our concentrated powder laundry detergent a try instead!

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