In an international contest to find alternative preservatives, a team led by a University of Victoria chemist and civil engineer came out on top.
Heather Buckley led the 10-person Canada-US team, which won for its “reversible” anti-microbial to fight bacteria in a container used for cosmetics and household products while breaking down into two harmless ingredients when out of the jar.
The Green Chemistry and Commerce Council (GC3) win came in Massachusetts.
Buckley says UVic’s share of the $35,000 prize money will fund a graduate student at the university to look at a secondary use for the winning preservative to prevent bio-fouling in water treatment systems.
The competition came out of pressure from consumers to find alternative preservatives to ones currently used, such as parabens and methylisothiazolinone (MIT), commonly used to prevent molds and bacteria from growing in personal-care and household products.
Buckley says they are an improvement to older preservatives, but their large use in a wide range of products can cause skin sensitization and other health effects because of overexposure.
“Any time you introduce something into the environment designed to kill off bacteria and mold, it’s part of a cumulative stress on the environment,” Buckley said.
The team owns the intellectual rights for the new preservative and is working with packaged-goods company Method and other partners to commercialize it.
A study on 2016 wastewater in New York City found an estimated 546 kilograms of paraben ends up in the environment each year from New York City residents.