Hidden Plastic: Ingredients to Look For

Laundry pods

In the latest iteration of my ongoing sustainability journey, I’ve begun looking beyond how the products I buy are packaged to also pay attention to what’s in them. My ideal scenario would be purchasing only natural materials across the full spectrum of things I consume including clothing, housewares, toiletries, etc. That’s a challenging goal for many reasons, accessibility and cost being the two most obvious. But every small step helps! Recently I’ve been discouraged by finding what I’m thinking of as “hidden plastic” in some of the products I’ve bought from brands that tout their sustainability. I put hidden plastic in quotes because to someone with more knowledge than me, it might be obvious and therefore not hidden. As I’m still learning, though, I want to share what I’m starting to look out for.

I usually skim ingredient lists for toiletries because I have a rough sense of what to try to avoid. I don’t spend as much time on cleaning products though because I don’t know as much about what to look for. As I’m learning more, there are now two categories of hidden plastic I’m checking ingredients for: microbeads and PVA/PVOH:

  • Microbeads are small pieces of plastic added to toiletries to serve as exfoliants. Most of us are probably at least somewhat familiar with microbeads because there was a lot of press about the environmental hazards of microbeads a few years ago. The Obama administration passed a law banning microbeads in a lot of cases. Some manufacturing was allowed to continue into 2019, though, so there are still products on the shelves with microbeads in them. I now know to keep an eye out for the following in an ingredients list: polyethylene, polypropylene, polyethylene terephthalate, polymethyl methacrylate, acrylates copolymer, and nylon. This isn’t a comprehensive list by any means, but it’s a place to start.
  • PVA/PVOH: This are used to make the plastic coating that dissolves on dishwasher and laundry pods. The full name to look for in ingredient lists are polyvinyl alcohol.

The other takeaway I’ve learned is if I’m wondering how something accomplishes a task, like exfoliating or protecting a laundry pod, it’s probably worth it to check the ingredient list. I need to start trusting my gut instinct more if I’m wondering if a product might contain hidden plastics. The good news, though, is we’re learning so much more about how to protect the environment, and companies are constantly developing more eco-friendly products.

Where are you in your own sustainability journey? We’d love to hear from you in the comments below, or on social media. We also wrote up some of the sustainable kitchen swaps we’ve made, and plan to continue sharing our own efforts towards living more sustainability. To stay up to date on our newest posts, please consider signing up for our email newsletter!

2 Replies to “Hidden Plastic: Ingredients to Look For

  1. Seventh Generation is a pretty awesome company with excellent cleaning products. I’ll have to ask Deane about hidden plastics.

    1. I love Seventh Generation! We use a lot of their products in our house, particularly their toilet paper and facial tissues. Theirs is the best quality I’ve found for sustainable paper products.

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