Technological watch

Comparative life cycle assessment for the manufacture of bio-detergents

The increasing consumption of cleaning products deteriorates water resources due to harmful components such as phosphorus (P) and nitrogen (N) compounds, oils, bleach, and acids, typical compounds in traditional detergents. The use of biodegradable detergents as an environmentally friendly alternative has been proposed in different regions. In Colombia, resolution 1770/2018 sets a minimum biodegradability rate of 60% for the surfactants present in liquid detergents, which would reduce to a similar extent the impacts on water after their use. However, the environmental impacts of the supply chain of these detergents and their raw materials have not been evaluated so far. This study presents an environmental life cycle assessment of petroleum-based liquid detergents and a comparison to traditional solid detergents, based on the ISO 14040 standard and the ReCiPe-2016 impacts assessment method. A novel bio-detergent containing anionic plant-based surfactants was proposed in this analysis. The impacts of packaging and the distribution of the product to consumers were also considered. Raw materials contributed to 91% of the total of 314 g of CO2 eq generated per liter of liquid detergent, where the production of fatty alcohol sulfate and PET packaging shared 78.8% and 12.2% of the total impact, respectively. It was also determined that 5.4 L of water are consumed and 0.09 g of P eq and 0.1 g of N eq are emitted per liter of detergent. This liquid detergent presented better environmental performance than traditional detergents in all the impact categories, except for the fossil resource scarcity category. The evaluated detergent would significantly mitigate the generation of negative effects on ecosystems. Moreover, the substitution of PET for HDPE packaging could reduce the impacts on freshwater eutrophication by 10%, although the carbon footprint can slightly increase, which could be compensated due to its higher recyclability rate. In contrast, the proposed bio-detergent would not have significant benefits and would negatively affect water consumption and land use in its supply chain.


This project has received funding from the Bio Based Industries Joint Undertaking under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 837761.