November 1995


No Surfactant Found Superior to LAS

The most comprehensive Life Cycle Inventory (LCI) study ever conducted on the major surfactants used in laundry detergents has just been completed in Europe. LAS and six other surfactants were studied. The LCI study is a compilation of all the energy and raw materials consumed and all emissions to air, water and solids produced in the manufacturing of the surfactants.

The study found that there is no scientific basis to conclude that any surfactant is environmentally superior: all consume natural resources and produce various wastes. This finding contradicts frequently made claims that various surfactants or groups of surfactants, such as palm or coconut oil-based surfactants, are environmentally superior. Such claims have typically been made based on the consideration of one or only a few attributes of the surfactant. The power of the LCI study is that it systematically considers all environmental aspects of the production process and thus provides a comparison across all attributes.

The study provides a benchmark for surfactant producers to use in improving their manufacturing processes. Specifically regarding LAS, the study commented: “LAS, as with most of the petrochemical-derived surfactants, is produced in technologically well advanced processes … leading to reduced environmental emissions.”

The LCI study was conducted by Franklin Associates, a leading environmental consulting firm, under the supervision of a work group of the European Chemical Industry Council (CEFIC) and the European Center of Studies on LAB/LAS (ECOSOL). All the major surfactant manufacturing companies in Europe participated in the study. The first part of the study was published in the February, 1995, issue of the scientific journal, Tenside Surfactants Detergents. The final part was presented in a workshop in Brussels at the end of October.)