Ecoworks Marine, Formulating Ecological and Biological Cleaners.
There are a number of ingredients in traditional chemical cleaners which are potentially harmful to human health and to the environment. At Ecoworks Marine our ethos is to use simple ingredients that perform well. Careful selection of appropriate raw materials based on their individual criteria allows us to satisfy all our goals in terms of product performance, economics and a lower environmental footprint. Not every ingredient in a formulation can be derived from renewable resources. The most important thing is to select nicer and more eco-friendly ingredients as far as possible from the outset, in terms of hazard profile, oral and aquatic toxicity etc. We aim to replace undesirable ingredients wherever possible with eco-solvents, plant and fermentation extracts, naturally derived sustainable surfactants, naturally occurring non-hazardous bacteria and enzymes. We want our cleaning products to not only be safer for the environment but safer for the end user as well.
The introduction of the Detergent Regulations (EC) No 648/2004 has ensured that surfactants pass a more stringent “ultimate” biodegradability test. Special industrial or institutional surfactants that do not fulfil the criterion of ultimate biodegradability within the given time period, must pass the test for “primary” biodegradability (>80% within the given period). However, this accounts for a very small proportion of surfactants that are used in more specialist applications. Thus, claiming a product is “eco-friendly” or “green” on account on its biodegradability is somewhat misleading, as essentially all surfactants used in detergent formulations should satisfy the biodegradability criteria as laid down in the Detergent Regulations. Biodegradability is thus a standard requirement and not a standalone property which makes a product environmentally or eco-friendly.
Oleochemical surfactants are referred to as “natural” as they are derived from plants oils such as palm, palm kernel, coconut oil or sugar. Petrochemical surfactants are derived from crude oil and are also known as “synthetic” surfactants. Both oleochemical and petrochemical feed stocks require further chemical processing before they become the surfactants we use and consideration must be given to the toxicity and environmental release from these processes. Whether a surfactant comes from petroleum or plant sources has little or no bearing on its biodegradability or aquatic toxicity, this in turn is determined by its chemical structure, although processing petrochemicals generally results in higher and more unfavourable emissions. Plant based surfactants are produced through agricultural activities and although they have the advantage of coming from renewable resources, the processes can be destructive to natural habitats and food sources available to local populations may be reduced. As a result, there is currently a move towards using natural fatty alcohols and sugars from agricultural by-products, thus removing competition with glucose based raw materials. There is presently much research taking place to further enhance the performance of alkyl polyglucosides (derived from corn and sugar), and improve production methods by lowering process temperatures, reducing emissions etc. We endeavour to keep ourselves at the forefront of new innovations and raw material choices as far as the environment and sustainability are concerned.
Many of our products are also biological, i.e. they contain bacteria and/ or free enzymes. Some manufacturers claim that a product is eco-friendly on account of the fact that it has been formulated with microbes and enzymes, but whilst there is most definitely a place for biotechnology in cleaning products, this on its own does not make a product eco-friendly. Consideration has to be given to every ingredient in a formulation.
Great care must also be taken to use suitable strains of bacteria for each product and that they are present in sufficient numbers to work efficiently. It is critical that the microbes used demonstrate the correct enzymatic activities for the task in hand. For example, bacteria which possess protease and uricase enzyme activity are appropriate in a washroom/ toilet/ urinal cleaner as they combat unpleasant odours as well as the build up of uric acid. Protease enzymes are also particularly effective at removing odours and stains caused by urine, faeces, vomit, blood and food spills etc. Similarly, lipase enzymes that can help to dissolve fats, oils and greases are thus appropriate in the cleaning of kitchen surfaces, washroom floors and other hard surfaces. It follows that free enzymes added to formulations are equally specific, so appropriate selection for the application is vital.
We have encountered many competitor products which contain bacteria with unsuitable enzyme abilities for the job they are designed to carry out, or which contain very low numbers of bacteria. However, we have carried out extensive testing on our panel of bacterial strains to ensure they are ideally suited to each product type. Each product contains a quality controlled bacterial specification which is considered appropriate for each application. Our bacteria and enzymes work in synergy with the cleaning components to truly optimise cleaning performance and control odours.
There are also an increasing number of products appearing on the market which claim to be probiotic cleaners. Whereas it is clear from the above paragraphs that enzymes and bacteria most definitely have a major place in the breaking down and removal of organic residues and attendant malodours, the addition of probiotic organisms to a washing up liquid for instance, is rather contentious. We have found probiotic washing up liquid products currently on the market to contain very low levels of bacteria, usually lower than 20,000 organisms per ml. At this level of inclusion and following dilution in the wash water, any benefit would be negligible. Even greater care must be taken in selecting appropriate bacteria for such applications as they are not necessarily safe for areas where contact with food is likely. For example, even species of Bacillus traditionally considered safe for use in biological products, may produce certain toxins. At Ecoworks Marine, the bacteria used in products that may come into contact with food areas have been extensively tested to demonstrate that they do not produce enteric or emetic toxins, and that they do not possess genes coding for production of such toxins. Hence their complete safety in use is assured.
In summary, our use of sustainable ingredients wherever possible, demonstrates our environmental commitment. It makes sense to select ingredients that perform well, remove unnecessary components, use bacteria and enzymes where appropriate and use blends of surfactants/ ingredients that are more environmentally favourable in terms of aquatic toxicity, sustainability and biodegradability. This has been our philosophy in formulating our products.
Therefore when we design products at Ecoworks Marine, we look to formulate them with the following ingredients:
- Naturally-derived surfactants such as alkyl polyglucosides, or where this is not practical, mild surfactants with good eco-toxicological profiles and performance profiles.
- Eco solvents (plant derived solvents from replenishable sources) rather than traditional solvents.
- Organic acids rather than mineral acids such as sulphuric, phosphoric etc.
- Bacteria and enzymes to break down organic matter naturally.
- Delicate and natural fresh fragrance blends that comprise a blend of individual components and naturally occurring renewable essential oils. These are carefully formulated at a concentration to be non-sensitising and safer for the skin and environment.