Interview with Amber Yarnell, Ph.D., R&D Applications Scientist at Lanxess
Amber Yarnell, Ph.D. , R&D Applications Scientist
Sustainability has a growing importance for home care and consumer products. What does “sustainability” mean to the everyday consumer?
Most people can agree that sustainability is important and plays a role in the products we purchase and use in our homes every day. We want to protect our health, safety, and environment, and these core values drive consumer buying habits. This is especially true in 2021, with new United Nations scientific findings being released about climate change and a global pandemic drastically increasing usage and exposures to cleaning products. People are more conscious of sustainability than ever before.
For consumers, there are two main ways of thinking about sustainability. One is to evaluate the specific product on the shelf. What claims or certifications are present on the label? Is the formulation readily biodegradable? Does the packaging reduce waste? Does the product contain any concerning ingredients, such as allergens, environmental hazards, or bio-accumulative materials? Is it safe to wash down the drain?
The other way consumers think about sustainability is by repeatedly purchasing from brands that they trust. Does the manufacturer promote consistent and specific objectives for sustainability? Do they ethically source their ingredients? Can they certify that their operations meet global industry benchmarks for sustainability? Do they rigorously test their products?
All of this translates to a lot of complexity for manufacturers, who have to navigate a wide variety of consumer needs. However, by consistently adopting more sustainable practices and ingredients, they can make their product labels and brand ethos more attractive.
What is an important factor for formulators to receive green label certification?
Ingredients are one of the most important considerations that impact whether a product can be certified to meet green label standards. For example, Ecolabel and Ecocert restrict ingredients that are believed to represent specific hazards. The manufacturer must work with their suppliers and be able to demonstrate that their raw materials are sustainably sourced. In addition, the certifying body will look at overall product design and eco-friendly or recyclable packaging. To achieve these goals, manufacturers should consider which green certifications they would like to attain before beginning formulation.
Why are effectively preserved products essential to sustainability?
If a product is not effectively preserved, it greatly reduces product lifespan. Sustainable cleaning products often have a high concentration of water and naturally derived ingredients. These ingredients could support microbial activity as they provide an attractive environment for the growth of fungi and bacteria. Such microorganisms can threaten consumer health, reduce product effectiveness, or impact product aesthetics like color, odor, viscosity, or appearance.
To avoid contamination without preservatives, products would need energy-intensive solutions to prevent contamination, such as refrigeration. Even in carefully controlled, refrigerated conditions, the product may only last weeks before spoiling instead of months or years. Then, the unused portion of the spoiled product would need to be disposed, wastefully sending materials down the drain or to the landfill.
In contrast, properly preserved products can last for much longer, so they can be fully used and minimize waste. They can be stored and transported easily in a wide variety of environments, even hot or humid areas where microbes thrive more readily. Proper preservation means that preservative concentration is optimized – the levels are limited to minimize hazards, while also using enough to protect the product, the consumer and the environment.
Biodegradability is an important quality for all ingredients used in home care products. What is your solution for sustainable preservation without negative impact on the environment?
There are multiple levels of ingredient biodegradability, which is determined by the rate of degradation and the conditions required. At the top of the spectrum, readily biodegradable materials can be easily broken down by microorganisms that are present in the environment, without special conditions. Ready biodegradability it the most sustainable, since it means that the ingredients may have less environmental impact.
Organic acids are increasingly preferred in consumer products due to their ability to readily biodegrade. Of the chemistries in this class, sodium benzoate is the most attractive option, as it is frequently cited as a reference material in testing guidelines. This is due to its capacity to readily and completely degrade in a variety of environments. High quality sodium benzoate is necessary for consumer applications. It is available for personal care as Purox® S, and for BPR applications such as household care, it is available as Kalaguard® SB.
Some materials require more heat, light, oxygen, time, or pre-acclimated microorganisms to break down. These materials are considered inherently biodegradable, as long as they will eventually degrade. If they aren’t expected to break down fully or partially, they are considered persistent, and they may accumulate in the environment or even inside the human body. Persistent chemistries should be avoided whenever possible.
How difficult is reformulating for sustainability & biodegradability?
Many of our customers come to us for guidance on how to create more sustainable, well preserved, higher performing products. Our applications lab is very focused on this, as it can be quite challenging to design formulations that meet all of the consumer’s needs for sustainability, while also being effective and easy to use. The best time to start thinking about sustainability is at the beginning of the formulation process, so the manufacturer can carefully select ingredients that meet the requirements. For example, if an Ecolabel certification is desired, you can design the product around those needs.
In some cases, it may be possible to tweak existing formulas to eliminate certain ingredients, but the manufacturer will need to understand how that omission or substitution could impact the product. For example, does the pH need to be adjusted? Is there any change in product performance? Could new ingredients increase the needed preservative concentration, which could be the case for ingredients with high bioburden? Are there multifunctionals that could do the job of multiple ingredients?
Recently, LANXESS completed the acquisition of Emerald Kalama Chemical. How will this affect your business sector?
As a global chemical company, LANXESS has substantial business in the preservation and stabilization field, not only in the food and beverage industry but also in the personal and home care industries. With the completed acquisition of Emerald, LANXESS has formed a new business unit under the Consumer Protection segment called Flavors & Fragrances. This new business unit will be focused on delivering sustainable, high quality ingredients used in consumer products, such as home care, personal care, foods, pharmaceuticals, feed, and agriculture. Together Emerald Kalama and LANXESS can offer a broader portfolio to their customers.