The more we know, the harder it can seem to do the right thing: “Don’t Litter” campaigns abound the world over, but just because the trash finds its way into the proper receptacle doesn’t mean it’s no longer harmful. As we are now beginning to appreciate, plastic trash often ends up in the oceans, where it is a threat to marine wildlife, but also to us, as it finds its way back into the food chain.
Another example: using paper products, which are biodegradable, merely exchanges the problem with biodegradability for deforestation, instead.
The problem with surfactants is a little different. Ethoxylated fatty alcohols (EFAs) are some of the most popular surfactants to be used in detergents and shampoos. Their properties – a hydrophobic, long carbon-chain tail, with a polar, hydroxyl head – make them good candidates for solubilizing oils and dirt, without damaging skin and clothing fibers. If the carbon chain is linear, then they can be readily degraded in the environment by bacteria. But about half of the worldwide supply of EFAs is made using only petrochemicals as a starting agent – and this is not sustainable. Fortunately, many plants produce long-chain fatty acids, which can then be ethoxylated into EFAs. Unfortunately, many of those plants – corn, coconuts, soybeans, nuts – are also critical for providing food to much of the World.
Palm oil is even more problematic than most: because palm trees are tropical plants, rainforests need to be cleared to make way for palm plantations. Or farmland – in countries that already have a weak food supply chain – gets converted to palm trees. Fortunately, international organization RSPO independently supervises and certifies the sustainability of each and every palm tree plantation.
Sirius’s Ethoxybrite’s are derived from sustainably produced palm oil and sugar, instead of petrochemicals, providing the ethoxy groups. We only use palm oil that has been certified by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), so no virgin forests were cut down, no farmland converted to palm plantations, no toxic crop protection products used, no unacceptable labor conditions allowed and the palm oil is not detracting from another country’s food supply.
But then we still have the petrochemical ethylene oxide added to the vegetal fatty alcohol to form the eventual EFA’s. With Sirius Internationals bio-based EFA, the ethoxylated head is derived from sugar, which is renewable. The product is available with a variety of carbon-chain lengths, so you can create a surfactant blend that best suits your customers’ needs.
One of the most popular surfactants in the world is SLES, sodium lauryl ethoxylate sulfonate. Sulfonating the ethoxy head of the EFA also involves petrochemicals, as sulfuric compounds are a byproduct of refining crude oil. However, Sirius works with a producer who has found a way to use elemental sulfur. Elemental sulfur is not, strictly speaking, a renewable resource, but it is far more plentiful than oil, and extracting it is far less resource-consuming. Sirius is one of the few providers in the world to carry bio-based Ethoxybrite SLES.
The Sirius Effect:
Shifting perceptions of the responsibility manufacturers have to the environment can make it difficult to decide what components can best meet those requirements. Sirius’s range of biodegradable and/or sustainably produced surfactants, soaps, builders, and other compounds help you stay ahead of the curve, keeping you literally in the green. Want to find out more about what EFAs can do for your product? Give us a call today.
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