Biodegradable alternatives to products that end up in sewage water

Aqueous household and personal care (HPC) products like detergents, shampoos and moisturisers often contain non-degradable or petrochemical ingredients. This is problematic because these products usually end up in the sewer or the environment after use. Wageningen Food & Biobased Research is developing biobased and biodegradable alternatives to these ingredients that can significantly improve the sustainability of HPC products.

Reducing the footprint of HPC products

HPC are typically complex formulations that may contain metal ion chelating compounds, (hair) softeners, surfactants, rheology modifiers and a variety of additives, including pigments, biocides, fragrances and - for sunscreens - UV blockers. In many cases, these are fossil-based and non-biodegradable. This is a problem because they are usually washed out after use and end up in the sewer or even in the environment. Recycling at source is therefore almost impossible. It would be ideal if they could break down into harmless molecules under natural conditions. Even in case HPC ingredients are biobased, they might be derived from unsustainable sources like palm oil. This challenges the HPC-industry to design sustainable products that meet all functional requirements, have a sufficient shelf life but are also user-friendly. Wageningen Food & Biobased Research is developing new sustainable, biobased and biodegradable molecules based on biomass from preferably agricultural residues and waste streams for this purpose. They can help the industry reduce its environmental footprint.

Bioproducts with the right properties

When designing sustainable ingredients for HPC, it is generally not a solution to make biobased drop-ins for fossil molecules, as these would still not be biodegradable. We focus on designing new chemicals, starting with the existing structure of selected biomolecules. We modify these to achieve the desired functionality through a variety of conversion techniques, from bio- and electrochemical catalysis and microbial synthesis to emulsion polymerisation. We then analyse the chemical and physical properties of biobased chemicals and biopolymers. We are creating efficient methods to accelerate biodegradation studies using high-throughput facilities. Our extensive knowledge of raw materials, conversion methods and the biodegradability of molecular structures enables us to produce biopolymers on demand, with exactly the right properties. In this process, we also work in consortia with industrial partners who jointly cover the entire value chain.

From feedstock to environmentally benign products

In various projects, we work successfully with the industry on biobased and biodegradable products:

• In the LWV20.015 project “Functionalised carbohydrates for replacement of fossil based ingredients, sponsored by the Dutch Topsector Agri&Food, we develop modified biopolymers derived from sugarbeet pulp. These modified biopolymers have the ability to substitute polyacrylates in personal care and automatic dishwashing formulations and even can be used as additive in natural leather. This not only offers benefits for producers and consumers; it also provides the agri-food sector with opportunities to valorise agricultural side streams into high-quality value added products.

• In the CCLEAN and CHARM projects, we are exploring with industry biobased and biodegradable alternatives to fossil-based and non-degradable ingredients in the HPC market. These include chelates (which prevent scale formation in household machines) and rheology enhancers (binders and thickeners), respectively.

• The LWV 19221 project “Tailor made microbial oils and (hydroxy) fatty acid” explores microbial methods to sustainably produces oils aiming at avoiding the unsustainable use and production of palm oil.

Fully-fledged sustainable alternative

By replacing common fossil ingredients with advanced biobased and biodegradable alternatives, we can make the HPC market a lot more sustainable and circular, even if ingredients are washed away after use.

Contact us

Wageningen Food & Biobased Research builds on extensive expertise and experience in developing such alternatives together with industry. Contact us for more information.