Regulatory Biodegradability Testing

Biodegradation Testing

Biodegradation testing is commonly performed to meet environmental regulatory requirements and for product marketing claims. There are many standardized biodegradation test methods including OECD 301B, ASTM D5864, ISO 14593, etc; depending on the product application, certain methods are more applicable to certain types of materials than others.

For example, companies using lubricants that experience operational discharge, stern tube leakage, or accidental spills have direct experience with costly environmental penalties and the time consuming processes that occur following such an incident when using traditional lubricants; however, many of these consequences can be reduced by using Environmentally Acceptable Lubricants (EALs) in place of traditional lubricants. When formulating an EAL, formulating the base oil, thickening agents and performance additives for certain performance characteristics, such as biodegradability, are required and must be demonstrated through product testing that is regulated by agencies including the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), European Union (EU) and other third party branding agencies.

The EPA defines an environmentally acceptable lubricant (EAL) as a lubricant that has met standards for biodegradability, toxicity and bioaccumulation potential that minimize likely adverse consequences in the aquatic environment, compared to conventional lubricants (EPA.GOV). Through the EPA, environmentally acceptable lubricants may be used as a best management practice (BMP) by operators of vessels covered under the Vessel General Permit for Discharges Incidental to the Normal Operation of Vessels (VGP) (EPA.GOV).

Another type of implementation for biodegradability testing is the EU Ecolabels. For lubricants, ultimate biodegradation testing by methods such as OECD 306 and 310 is recommended in order to meet the biodegradability requirements for the specific Lubricant Ecolabel. Additionally, laundry detergents in the process of obtaining an EU ecolabel are recommended to undergo OECD 301 ready bidoegradability testing or the equivalent ISO methods to meet the biodegradability requirements for that label.

Other types of regulatory compliance associated with the biodegradability performance is related to testing for Registration, Evaluation, Authorization and Restriction of Chemicals (REACH) compliance.  A product must demonstrate Ecotoxicological information, including Ready Biodegradability, to meet the requirements for REACH compliance.

The highest level of biodegradation that can be demonstrated and claimed is called ready biodegradability.  Materials that meet the requirements achieve the most stringent classification and are expected to rapidly and completely biodegrade in an aquatic environment under aerobic conditions. Test methods such as OECD 301, OECD 306, and ASTM D5864 test for ready biodegradability of a material in fresh or marine water environments and are generally accepted by regulatory and third party labeling agencies for different types of registrations or compliance. For classification as “ready biodegradable,” standard methods generally  require the material to biodegrade by 60% or 70% in the first 10 days of a standard 28-day liquid biodegradation test.

Formulating a durable material that meets ready or ultimate biodegradability requirements can be challenging; however, by properly formulating, testing and labeling an environmentally acceptable product, companies can save time and costs associated with accidents, can reduce environmental impact and regulatory scrutiny, and gain a competitive edge in the market.

For more information on Product Testing and Regulatory Compliance, contact the lab at 847-483-9950 or