Interview with Esther Lansdaal, Senior Application Specialist Home and Personal Care at Corbion
Esther Lansdaal, Senior Application Specialist Home and Personal Care
What do you think will be the future selling point for many inclusive household cleaner products?
As we know, more consumers are becoming environmentally aware, increasingly choosing ‘greener’ products and ingredients, that help to limit negative impact on our planet, over conventional, aggressive chemicals. To meet the preferences of environmentally conscious consumers, leading home care companies are releasing more sustainable cleaning formulations with naturally derived, biodegradable ingredients that also maintain excellent performance, are convenient and safe. Some manufacturers are taking smaller steps to supporting a ‘greener future’ by reducing levels of chemicals and using more eco-friendly ingredients in their place. For others, using a blend of natural ingredients – like surfactants and preservatives – that bring different benefits and ensure optimal performance of the end product is preferred. Lactic acid, for example, offers green credentials, helping brands achieve Sustainable Development Goals 12 and 13, with targets such as using less hazardous chemicals, and reducing environmental impact, including lowering carbon footprint and waste. At the same time, lactic acid brings many functional properties to home care formulations depending on the dose level, meaning it can be used in everything from antimicrobial and descaling solutions to buffering applications and skin hydration.
Simultaneously, water-free and low-water concentrates for refill cleaners that tap into the reduce, reuse, recycle trend, are becoming more popular. The home care market is seeing a rise in powders, soaps and bars that aim to overcome shortage challenges and cut the cost and environmental footprint of excessive water use and transport. When you consider that more than 50% of humanity is expected to suffer from water stress by 2050 due to the increasing population and rising consumption of domestic products , bringing water-free products to the market is becoming ever more important.
Besides reducing water consumption and saving CO2 for transport, which other ecological advantages do water-free and low-water concentrates for refill cleaners have?
Using products that contain less water is a big step towards making a positive change for the planet, without impacting on our day-to-day lives. As well as reducing water consumption, helping to overcome future water shortages and lowering carbon footprint (because low-water formulations are more concentrated and therefore lighter for transportation around the world), water-free and low-water concentrates for refill cleaners decrease the need for packaging, and therefore support less plastic and general waste.
The ingredients that formulators add to water-free or low-water formulas can also bring ecological benefits. Lactic acid is biodegradable, and toxicologically and environmentally safe, and can be used to replace BIT (benzisothiazolinone) and MIT (methylisothiazolinone), which are widely used in home care products. Compared to these chemicals, lactic acid is less ecotoxic because it degrades faster, has a lower carbon footprint and contributes to waste reduction as it uses less water to formulate and can be used as a preservative.
What formulation challenges can manufacturers face when creating water-free/low-water concentrates for refill cleaners?
Several challenges are associated with formulating water-free or low-water concentrates, including foaming, dosing, solubility and discoloration. However, there are solutions to these issues.
- Regarding format, water-free sachet powders are beneficial over tablet concentrates as they are easier to produce due to absence of sticking properties and dissolve faster because of their free-flowing properties
- To increase solubility speed of water-free or low-water concentrates, formulators recommend that end users add warm water to the product instead of cold
- Water-free formulations are more susceptible to foaming, which can make the product overflow. To avoid this, formulators can add a defoamer to the concentrate. Or to avoid adding more ingredients to the formulation, consumers are simply advised not to shake (but instead, gently swing) the concentrate when diluting
- Similarly, chelators may need to be added to formulations to achieve a clear, diluted home cleaner, or colorful, semi-transparent packaging can be used to make the product more attractive on the shelves. However, as the sustainable movement takes hold, more consumers are less concerned about the appearance of products, and only care that they perform well.
At the same time, it is important to consider the ingredients being added to the formulation as some will be more suitable than others, depending on the application and product format. Some specific challenges arise when using naturally-derived ingredients as opposed to traditional chemical additives. For example, it is often not possible to add an effervescent effect, which has been a desired visual appearance in home care products for many years. This is because, when liquid, either acid or water, is added to powder formats, it can create problems with the effervescent ingredient in the formulation. As the development of more natural, sustainable home care products continues to rise though, it is likely that ‘greener’ credentials will be preferred over non-essential properties like effervescence or dyes because more people are accepting that the market for natural products does not typically include ‘luxurious’ additives. Discoloration can be an issue also, and occurs over time, especially when using ingredients like sodium C14-16 olefin sulfonate – an economical and versatile biodegradable surfactant that can discolor when exposed to air (due to oxidation). This can be resolved by optimizing the formulation and using proper packaging.
With PURAC® Powder NS55 and PURAC® Sanilac, Corbion offers lactic acids for cleaners. What are the benefits of lactic acid when formulating sustainable cleaners?
Lactic acid-based solutions are proven to help home care formulators produce safe, sustainable and cost-effective products that deliver outstanding performance. A natural, mild ingredient, lactic acid is readily biodegradable and non-toxic to the environment and humans, so can be used as an alternative to many traditional biocides for home care innovation. Corbion’s lactic acid PURAC® solutions –PURAC® Powder NS55 and PURAC® Sanilac – are the perfect route for the development of powerful, bio-based and consumer-friendly concentrates.
What other benefits do lactic acid-based products offer formulators of refill cleaners and end users?
As well as enabling the creation of sustainable home care cleaning formulations that are mild yet powerful, PURAC® Sanilac and PURAC® Powder NS55 bring a number of functionalities to liquid and powdered concentrates. For example, PURAC® Sanilac offers antimicrobial properties and preservation, whereas PURAC® Powder NS55 helps to boost functionalities like these in combination with other ingredients.
Lactic acid is already being used in a number of cleaning and disinfectant products where it brings superior dual-action antimicrobial properties, without taking a toll on the planet. Depending on the requirements of the home care product, lactic acid concentration can be fine-tuned in the formulation. For instance, it can be increased to enable higher antimicrobial efficacy and protection against a wider range of bacterium and viruses. In addition, testing shows that lactic acid increases the descaling power of refill cleaners and promotes streak-free cleaning – combining multiple desired cleaning benefits in one single ingredient. As an example, formulators can use the following combinations to achieve different functions in the powder products:
- PURAC®Sanilac + filler = antimicrobial properties
- PURAC®Powder NS55 + low concentrate biocide = cleaning effect.
In liquid concentrates, PURAC® Sanilac and other liquid lactic acid grades can be added without filler or biocides.
The sustainability movement has been in discussion for quite a while. What in your opinion is the difference now?
My opinion is that we are still at the beginning of the sustainability revolution, and have a long way to go, with many challenges along the journey, before we accomplish the ‘green future’ we’re all aspiring to. The recent COVID-19 pandemic, for instance, had a huge negative impact on our sustainability efforts, actually forcing us to go a few steps back – due to the significant increased use of single-use products and chemicals aimed at minimizing the spread of the virus. But this was necessary to satisfy an immediate, important need worldwide. It’s now time to move forward positively though, and I do think a sustainable future is possible if we’re all working towards the same goal. It is encouraging to see so many big brands and consumers already taking steps, however small, to achieve this. And as awareness of our impact on the planet grows and the need for more sustainable solutions becomes critical, I can’t see why more people wouldn’t champion a better future for all.
Corbion is the global market leader in lactic acid and its derivatives, and a leading supplier of emulsifiers, functional enzyme blends, minerals, vitamins, and algae ingredients. We use our unique expertise in fermentation and other processes to deliver sustainable solutions for the preservation of food and food production, health, and our planet. For over 100 years, we have been uncompromising in our commitment to safety, quality, innovation and performance. Drawing on our deep application and product knowledge, we work side-by-side with customers to make our cutting-edge technologies work for them. Our solutions help differentiate products in markets such as food, home & personal care, animal nutrition, pharmaceuticals, medical devices, and bioplastics. In 2020, Corbion generated annual sales of € 986.5 million and had a workforce of 2,267 FTE. Corbion is listed on Euronext Amsterdam. For more information: www.corbion.com
 Schlosser et al. The future of global water stress: an integrated assessment. Earth’s Future, vol. 2, no. 8, pg. 341-361, 2014.