Biodegradability Claims

I was wondering how others deal with claims of biodegradability in their formulations. For example, if 99% of your formula contains readily biodegradable ingredients and 1% contains a polymer and/or synthetic which cannot be broken down by microorganisms, do you still state that the product is "biodegradable"? Or, would you quantify it as "99% biodegradable". 

I have seen companies do both ways before. For example, here Garnier states "92% biodegadable" 

I cannot remember specific brands at the moment, but know I have seen others list as 'biodegradable' even with the presence of dimethicone or other synthetic polymers. 

Thanks for any insight. 


  • BobzchemistBobzchemist Member, PCF student
    There are tests to quantify this...
    Robert Zonis, Sr. Formulation Chemist, Beaumont Products "All opinions and comments expressed are my own, have no relation to Beaumont Products, are fully copyrighted, and may not be used without written permission."
  • Hi, thanks for your reply. Yes I am familiar with OECD testing, but this is more of a marketing question. If 99% of a formula breaks down within the 28 days threshold would you still claim biodegradable?  
  • ozgirlozgirl Member, PCF student
    The claim "biodegradable" is really just a meaningless marketing term unless it is backed up by testing.

    If your product passes one of the standard OECD tests (or equivalent) when tested as a complete product formulation you can claim that the product it is "Readily Biodegradable". The OECD test results are a pass/fail outcome and are not qualified with a percentage value (even though they must meet a certain percentage of degradation to pass the test). The OECD tests do allow for some non-biodegradable material to be present in the sample so it is possible for your product to pass the test even when it contains some non-biodegradable ingredients.

    If you have information from your suppliers that all of the ingredients or one type of ingredient are biodegradable according to the appropriate test then you could make a qualified claim like "Contains Readily Biodegradable Surfactants*  (* All of the surfactants in this product are classified as readily biodegradable according to OECD 301E)". This claim is often used on products such as washing detergent powders where they consist of mostly inorganic salts.Only carbon containing materials are tested in biodegradability tests so water and inorganic ingredients can never be biodegradable.

    I would stay away from claiming anything with percentages and just make claims that relate to test data that you have available. Personally, if I see a claim that 92% is biodegradable I would be thinking what is the other 8% of the product but if I saw a claim that the product was readily biodegradable and mention of a test method I would feel confident that the product would be ok for the environment.

    Also, I am not sure where you are located but some countries (eg. Canada) have standards that relate to making environmental claims such as biodegradability.
  • @ozgirl

    I'm also interested in measuring the biodegradability of our formulas and the possibility of including this on our labelling info. 

    Which gov't dep't regulates this in Canada? My internet search is coming up empty.
  • ozgirlozgirl Member, PCF student
    @EliseCortes I am in Australia and have only had to deal with this once to check the environmental claims on our products when were importing them into Canada.

    Here is a link to the Environmental Claims Guide for Canada eng/02701.html

    Section 10.3 deals with biodegradability claims and Annex D has a list of biodegradability tests (ISO,OECD and ASTM methods) that could be used.

    Hope this helps :)
  • @ozgirl

    Thanks for your comments. I agree that making a qualified claim would be a better method, all the tech data for our surfactants show they are readily biodegradable. I'm still confused though, if my formula is 90% water, wouldn't it automatically be defined as 'readily biodegradable' since the threshold is 70% removal of DOC and 60% of ThOD?

    On a side note I started getting quotes on OECD biodegradable testing and they range from $1,500 to $4,500 USD for one sample! Seems quite high for what is being done. Anyone know of a cost effective lab who does this type of testing at a reasonable price? 
  • @ozgirl.... Very helpful, thanks!  I was on the competition bureau's page this morning and for the life of me could not find that info. #-o

    @ledude... That expensive... sheesh... I had no idea. 8-|

    ok, just got a little carried away with the emoticons.
  • ozgirlozgirl Member, PCF student

    Only organic chemicals (carbon containing molecules) are tested in biodegradability tests and because water contains no carbon it is not included. Similarly sodium chloride would not be included. DOC means dissolved organic carbon and the measurement of this value is used in one of the tests.

    The high cost of testing is another reason why smaller companies will often just claim that certain ingredients are biodegradable because the testing has already been done by the manufacturer. You can often get discounts if you test several samples at one time.
  • BobzchemistBobzchemist Member, PCF student
    @ledude, we got similar price quotes on biodegradability tests. If you find a less expensive lab, please let everyone here know.

    In fact, can you tell us who gave you the $1,500 quote?
    Robert Zonis, Sr. Formulation Chemist, Beaumont Products "All opinions and comments expressed are my own, have no relation to Beaumont Products, are fully copyrighted, and may not be used without written permission."
  • One economical approach is to get documentation from each of your ingredients' manufacturers asserting biodegradability.  Then in your promotional materials describe the biodegradable certification of your ingredients. Non biodegradable materials such as salts can be described as non-pollutants with appropriate supporting references.
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