COSCHEM GETS TO GRIPS WITH BIODEGRADABILITY TESTING AND CLAIMS
Coschem, South Africa’s Society of Cosmetic Chemists, hosted a lecture evening on 11 April to provide insight into biodegradability testing and claims, with Heidi Duveskog (Contextualize) presenting.
The aim of the talk was to give an overview of what biodegradability means in terms of its definition and testing. Simply put, biodegradability means ‘to be consumed by micro-organisms and to return to compounds found in nature’. Just because a product is naturally derived, it doesn’t mean that it is biodegradable. Buzzwords like ‘bio-based’, ‘environmentally friendly’ and ‘green’ are used to suggest a material produced from a plant, animal or vegetable resource will biodegrade more easily when disposed of in nature than synthetic materials. This is not necessarily true.
Due to the proliferation of green marketing claims, knowing the various biodegradable tests and certifications has become important to brand owners, suppliers and manufacturers in the cosmetics industry. Duveskog discussed their usefulness in positioning products more effectively in the market and to understand competitor claims better.
It is necessary to influence and ensure that regulatory agencies take a harsher look at how products are marketed globally. South Africa does not have a biodegradability testing standard at the moment and most of the claims made locally are based on tests done abroad. Formulations are generally qualified based on certification of the raw material components used. However, the fact that the individual components are biodegradable does not guarantee that the final product will be biodegradable.
The complexity of biodegradability testing was also considered in terms of the factors influencing tests and outcomes like the chemical characteristics, solubility and product microbial preservation. A product claim based on one biodegradation test standard can only be related to that specific level of biodegradability. For example, if a product is readily biodegradable according to OECD 301B, you cannot extrapolate the claim to another test standard, such as OECD 302B. The same claims cannot be made due to the differences in how the methods are designed to measure biodegradation. There is good agreement between the standard test methods (OECD, ASTM and ISO methods); the methods are simply adapted by the relevant regulatory agency for specific applications.
Current regulations require biodegradability claims to be based on aerobic biodegradation, which typically measures oxygen consumption, CO2 production and the state of inorganic carbon intermediates. Before making a claim about a product’s performance, it is important to consider the type of biodegradability needed, whether toxicity is a concern and if there are specific regulatory requirements to be met.
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