Understanding the Role of Bacteria
Bacteria have evolved over millions of years to be able to get energy and nutrients from chemicals, in a process called biodegradation. Bacteria grow by breaking down chemicals into smaller compounds, nutrients and water. With the nutrients and energy produced, more bacteria are formed. Since many ingredients are made up mostly of carbon atoms, bacteria may be able to convert that ingredient into CO2, water and nutrients.
When this occurs, the ingredient does not pose a risk to the environment because CO2, water and nutrients are safe. When biodegradation is incomplete, molecules which are smaller than the original ingredient are formed. These new molecules are called metabolites and are intensively studied by fate and effects scientists.
Of all the fate processes affecting consumer product ingredients, biodegradation is the most important because it results in the elimination of the ingredient. If the ingredient no longer exists, there is no concern about its potential to affect the environment. Hence, P&G scientists spend a lot of time studying biodegradation.
There are a number of different biodegradation tests, ranging in complexity from the simple Ready Biodegradation Test to the more complex Porous Pot Test. As in toxicity testing, scientists start with the simple tests (Ready Test) and progress to the more complex test if necessary.