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Understanding Biodegradability

The word “biodegradable” is defined as “Capable of decaying through action of living organisms.”

From this definition one can gather that “biodegradability” is simply the capacity for a particular material to biodegrade.

Many products in our industry fall under scrutiny for their biodegradability as they often must undergo a treatment cycle in a wastewater treatment plant. The time period used for this cycle is 28 days. The vernacular of the chemical industry offers two main terms to describe biodegradability based on this time period.

Inherently Biodegradable:

When a product is classified as “Inherently Biodegradable,” it means it will biodegrade to its natural state, when subjected to sunlight, water and microbial activity from as little as 20% to less than 60% in 28 days.

Readily Biodegradable:

Products are considered “Readily Biodegradable” when they have the natural ability to biodegrade to their natural state, when subjected to sunlight, water and microbial activity, from 60-100% in 28 days.

These terms are important for anyone formulating with eco-friendliness in mind. For decades, the workhorse surfactant family for detergents, degreasers and hard surface cleaners has been nonylphenol ethoxylates (NPEs). These have been under great scrutiny for some time because they are in fact not readily biodegradable and tend to persist in wildlife and humans. The jury is still out on the dangers of this presence, but evidence suggests that NPEs are not completely harmless.

The good news for animals, fish and people is that FBC Chemical offers several alternatives to NPEs and we are happy to share our formulating expertise with you.  Please contact your sales representative to discuss these options.

Further reading.