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Biodegradability

Definition

Biodegradation is the process by which micro-organisms (bacteria, fungi and algae) break down organic materials into smaller, simpler fragments. The organic matter provides the bacteria with energy and building blocks from which to make more bacteria. When biodegradation is complete, the end products are mostly carbon dioxide and water.

All our detergents are readily biodegradable and comply with the EEC's Detergent Biodegradability Directives and new EU Detergents Regulation No 648/2004.

What happens to products after use?

In the course of a day, people around the world are likely to use several of our products. You might brush your teeth with Crest or Blend-a-med toothpaste, shampoo your hair with Pantene, use Ariel detergent to wash your clothes and Fairy or Dreft washing up liquid to wash your dishes. After you use each of these products, the water you have used disappears down the drain. But where do the chemicals go? Do they end up in the environment? In the ocean? Will they be around in a week or two? Do they get into the food chain? Does anyone worry about these questions?

When we sit down and think about it, a lot of questions do come up about the P&G products we use and where they go after we use them. We refer to this as studying 'the fate of the ingredient'. The key questions fate scientists try to understand are:

  • Where does the product go?
  • How much goes there?
  • How long does it stay there?
  • What happens to it while it is there?


Many consumer products are washed down the drain after use. These products and their ingredients travel through sewers to the local wastewater treatment plant, where various processes act on them. Yet after treatment, some of the ingredients in a product may still reach the environment.

The tools

To study the fate of an ingredient, we usually start with computer-based tools to predict its chemical properties. This information is combined with measured data and with the amount of the ingredient used. Then a computer-based model predicts the concentrations of our ingredients in each environmental compartment: soil, water, groundwater, sediment and the atmosphere.
To ensure that these models are accurate, we use monitoring studies to verify the prediction made by the models so we can use models for future predictions with more confidence.

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