I Need Answers

I recently glued up a plywood workbench using a Titebond PVA and left the glue to dry in the bottom of the tray as this seems to me the best way to remove the glue in a single piece once you have drained off the excess back into the jug.

Lifting of the skin from the roller tray I became concerned that PVA, polyvinyl acetate, looked like plastic. I wasn’t too concerned about the mouldI made in removing the residue in its then dried out state so much as the tendency to wash the residue from the tray when still fluid. Was I washing plastic into the water systems, streams, river and oceans of the world’s waster supplies?

Moving on from this I recently used a water-based concrete adhesive, again PVA, and concrete sealer, both water-based. The question ping-ponged in my brain repeatedly.

From there I went to finish a shelf unit and used a water-borne wood varnish and again I left the residue to dry because it peeled off the tray I was using cleanly, often in a single moulded sheet. I also washed out my brush and roller in a bucket of water and left the water to stand to see just what would happen. Would the residue settle to the bottom? I didn’t know. After two days left undisturbed it seems that the milky reside still permeated the water and nothing settled to the bottom. The dilemma? If this is a form of plastic, can I responsibly poor it into the water system. Bear in mind that I did roll out as much excess of the material as I could, so this was not a well charged amount but the minutest of portions despite how it looks in the picture. j


  1. MSDS for that product should have more info to make an informed decision on, perhaps? My instinct / practice is not to put anything from my shop into the water system. We all have a part to do in protecting what is left, no matter how small it may seem at the time.
    I’m sure your post will get a lot of people thinking, as I’m sure you intended. Hopefully the same amount of people think twice next time they are near the drain.

    1. I think it has. The trust people have in local authorities,, officialdom, science, OSHA, MSDS and so in is the most scary to me. `we must remember that science gave us plastic and plastic bags started out as multi use bags that really, with care, could be used regularly for months. The supermarkets demanded thinner and eventually they were so thin they literally were not even one time use. Thankfully they are disappearing, along with throwaway cups, plates, straws and knives and forks. I never really understood straws. I don’t think I ever saw them used like they were used in the USA when I moved there. People in England found unique ways to place their lips against the rim of a cup, tilt the cup, and sip gently from the body of fluid inside the cup. So glad I never liked Starbucks though.

    2. Hello Paul,
      Thank you for this post – always good to reflect on the possible consequences of our choices and not carelessly choose “out of sight out of mind” disposal for expediency. For clean-up waste-water, given any uncertainty over biodegradability, I will now treat it as hazardous disposal and drop off accordingly. When disposing larger, undiluted quantities of old glue or paint, I expedite drying with kitty litter and discard with household trash (check local regulations). Silly how some assume our values to be all or nothing: “you worry about glue yet fly on planes!” – they assume hipocracy. We live and work with the choices currently available to us in society and strive to improve on them as we are able. One comment here on CO2 as some have brought it up and it is inseperable from woodworking: plant a tree, or donate to groups that do, to offset the loss from ones we burn or harvest. I exclude purchased wood if from reputable managed sources as those are sustainable operations. Upcycling reclaimed wood reduces the replacement burden as well.
      Cheers from Maryland.

  2. Sometimes, the regulators have no enforcement. Industry bullies in its goals of no regulation. Witness tobacco and nicotine costs to all humans. Yes, they are still there killing you. On the wood front we have the following:

    Pressure treated wood. The old CCA formula admirably protected a seventy-year-old slash wood for 30+ years. It did leach some and was very toxic, so regulators changed the formula and now I see all my weather exposed wood rotting in 20 years. (rebuilt a deck back then.)

    The real travesty is there are no substantial requirements for safe disposal of this treated material when replaced.

    We can’t even trust our government to protect the public. It has secretly sided with industry, and now makes no attempt to hide its favoritism. In the US, our public employees who work for us are under gag orders over two years after conservative industry grabbed the federal government. Employees have no protection from indiscriminate termination. The mantra literally is: “Do what you are told.”

    Next time you build a fence check disposal requirements for that toxic preservative in the wood and know for a fact that there is no alternative with more than five years durability.

  3. Find out how your municipal waste is treated. In cities, waste water from the toilet generally goes to a sewage treatment facility where it is filtered out in several stages either for reuse, or for safe return to the waterways. In LA I believe our storm drains go directly out to the Pacific, sadly. There are some waste traps along the lines but not nearly robust enough to keep the city’s pollution from hitting the ocean. PVA is PolyVinylAcetate. Vinyl is a plastic. Acetate is a plastic. Water-borne and water based do not mean earth-friendly. I try to dry out all my paint and glue residue for disposal at the hazardous waste dump, and clean my brushes mostly onto paper first (which then goes to hazardous waste), then wash the brushes in a bucket, then pour the brush cleaning water into the toilet, so it can go to the treatment facility, not the ocean.

    1. Maybe a bit off topic, but this makes me think of latex paint. I’ve always washed the brushes and rollers in the sink and down the drain. I figured that latex being a plant based product was harmless to the environment. Now that I think about it, I was probably wrong. Then there is the issue of the pigments used to color the paint some of which may be quite toxic, I really don’t know.

      Needing more answers.

    2. Having worked with a waste water management organisation (sewerage treatment included), I can advise that putting anything down the toilet that is not intended is dramatically bad for the environment as well. Modern sewerage treatment facilities rely on bacterial and mechanical processes to “digest” waste and convert and remove it from water that can be recycled – however these bio-facilities relying keeping a very delicate balance of conditions to enable to bacterial processes to continue working. Any imbalance in the system caused by chemicals or other substances that it was not designed for requires a heavy hand in rectifying – usually meaning the requirement to pollute the system with even more chemicals to try to restore the balance, and to use more energy in doing so.
      For instance – the seemingly innocuous disposal of old or out of date antibiotics from a home, into the toilet, can drastically kill off the good bacteria in the treatment plant.
      Storm water is for rain. Toilets are for human waste.
      Everything else needs specialist disposal (which unfortunately usually means landfill).

      1. I will echo Jason’s comments. As a career municipal employee, I have some knowledge relating to wastewater treatment plants. Everything Jason said is spot on. A treatment plant captures and or neutralizes specific substances and organisms – disease causing bacteria and substances such as phosphorus. Other chemicals and substances, even if they don’t interfere with the plant’s operation, tend to pass through the system and enter downstream waterways. My semi-educated guess is that pva’s fall into that “pass-through” category.

    3. Why would you put anything in water supply that would have to be taken out before putting back into nature (streams and rivers) if you had an alternative (trash)? Particularly something as toxic as glue, epoxy or paint. Anything that is put into waste water has to be taken out!
      Where I live commercial kitchens cannot use a disposal (grinder) to put food scraps down the drain. They go into garbage and then into a sanitary land fill. By the way, good practice in home too

  4. As for what hbmcc said, its absolutely true, and really too bad. I feel like our relationship with time and convenient, easy maintenance is going to have to radically change. I’m on a personal mission to change how and what I paint and seal with, and how I expect it to work. I’ve become interested in the Allback company’s approach. Haven’t tried it, but I’m curious.

  5. PVA is a plastic, however it is biodegradable. Leave it outside, or put it in a compost pile, and you’ll see that it fairly rapidly decomposes.

    It’s important to remember for as bad a connotation the term “plastic” has, not all plastics are the same.

    1. I have reverted to using hide glue, mostly for the convenience of long open times. I have had Titebond 3 set hard in less than 10 minutes in the heat and humidity of the summer. Not good when doing a large complex glue up.
      The track record for long term stability and the ability reopen and repair a joint are also very good reasons. I hadn’t considered the environmental issues before, but that is another item for thought.
      The major drawbacks of long cure time just make me pace my self more and any smell can be taken care of by adequate ventilation.

    2. Hello Sheldon,

      Your comment was about the most helpful on this question, but I am curious; what makes you say ‘PVA is biodegradable’? Can you site your sources? Or do you simply say that through your own observations, and if so, please explain a bit more about your definition of ‘decomposes’ (chemically? just disappearing from obvious view?). Like Paul, I’ve sweated this question for years and would like to know the answer myself. Thanks.

      1. Hi Dave there are a number of fungi and bacteria that break down PVA. UV radiation will break it down as well (e.g. in water ways). However all industrial uses of PVA adhesives recommend “treatment” (e.g. abotic means) for disposal.


        “PVA buried in the soil and in the soil with landfill leachate showed significant degrees of biodegradation in relatively short incubation times. In view of this finding, an investigation was made on the influence of PVA polymer properties, such as its degree of hydrolysis, on the rate and extent of biodegradation in the presence of acclimated mixed bacterial culture in the liquid medium and sterile phosphate buffer for the PVA solution. The biodegradation of PVA followed the usual mechanism of polyesters, i.e., hydrolysis of the acetate groups of the PVA chain and oxidation by enzymatic action (Chiellini et al., 2003). This reaction also occurs in PCL chains.”



    3. Thanks Sheldon. We live in ‘the bush’ in Australia and have a septic system and also a very thorough compost process. I can now confidently put the PVA into the compost with the knowledge that it will eventually break down. Thanks again.

    4. ‘rapidly decomposes’ –> Into What?? What does it decompose into?
      Please cite references.
      Thank you

      1. The main component part of plastics are carbon, hydrogen and oxygen. Of course there are other atoms in many plastics – think cyanoacrylates – such as cyanide! Cyanide is, however, present in many foods such as almonds and greens and is a component part of vitamin B12.

  6. Hi Paul, thanks for your awareness and for sharing it with the community of worldwide woodworkers.

  7. I agree with Mike regarding hide glue. This has been used since antiquity and has a number of advantages in addition to the concern about persistence in the environment. When PVA “biodegrades” is it truly broken down into organic molecules that can become part of healthy soil, or is it just broken down into “microplastics” which will never really reenter the carbon cycle? Hide glue is slick, making it easier to assemble snug joints, easy to clean up, transparent to followup stains/finishes, does not “creep” like PVA, is reversible, and can be used to do a rubbed joint without need for clamping. If you don’t want to mix your own when needed, “Old Brown Glue” is bottled liquid hide glue with a longer open time (check out oldbrownglue.com). Titebond also makes a good liquid hide glue and has for many decades. Glueup techniques may be a little different, but this glue has been used for millenia and can work well in a modern shop. As Paul has shown us in many other things, the traditional ways are still viable options

    1. I didn’t use quotes around “biodegrades”. It does biodegrade. The backbone polymer is broken down. It breaks down at roughly the equivalent rate to cellulose. So it’s definitely not immediate, but fairly fast for a synthetic compound.

  8. Hi, I’m a chemical engineer but it’s been a while since I finished my education… :-P, so take the input for what it’s worth. PVA or Poly Vinyl Alcohol is a polymer and is considered a plastic (all plastics are polymers, but not all polymers are plastic). It can be derived from ethylene gas ( a gas produced by ripening food) but that’s kinda expensive so we use oil to produce it. The interesting part of PVA is that it’s biodegradable (it’s broken down by some time of bacteria) and it dissolves in water. PVA film have quite a bit of usage in areas where plastic needs to dissolve in water, but where you probably know it from is your dishwasher tablets that are wrapped in plastic that dissolves during the washing cycle. It’s also non-toxic to fish and so, until quite high concentrations (several percentages or above) . Hope that helps.

  9. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/m/pubmed/12504164/

    Good question Paul. Nothing I found suggests any particular concern, other than don’t spill a bunch and not clean it up (too much of anything is well, too much). Or, as you did, let it dry first and then throw it away (versus wash it away).

    It seems that we eat the stuff as coatings in our medicines, and that (at least in low concentrations) organisms will break it down relatively quickly. Plus, our digestive systems just don’t break it down and take it in.

  10. Ok, I’m going to vent here, beware! This information may go against your beliefs!

    So we all have an impact on our environment even if we are just standing around breathing.( in fact stop breathing! Your exhaling carbon dioxide!) In the United States cow flatulence is to blame as a huge contributor to global warming, I kid you not look it up.
    I’m all for clean air, water and being responsible as a Stewart of the earth but our governments have proclaimed that water based solvents are better for the air and earth than what we used in past times. They have teams of scientists, environmentalist and lawyers making money off taxing and fining companies who try to make our life better.
    Hair spray destroys the ozone, lead paint brain damages our children, acid rain destroys our forests and cars pollute our air.
    My point is the use of any product that’s man made has an impact on our environment. We have to be responsible as individuals to use chemicals properly and follow the guidelines written on the containers. Believe me if any of the scientists out in the wild could figure out a way to ban a substance and make money they would have put Titebond out of business a long time ago and made their name and millions of dollars in lawsuits.
    As to the people who use Hyde glue and are morally superior think of the poor animals who had to die to make glue for your current project, although there is less flatulence around because all those poor horses are dead.
    Where I live in New England used to be under 4 miles of ice. No humans were alive at the time (unless you figure in the Flintstones). Yet the ice melted long before cars were invented or indeed millions of years before humans appeared. We had tropic periods and have fossilized footprints of dinosaurs from millions of years ago to prove the earth was much warmer all without human interaction.
    My suggestion is to contact the manufacturer, have them tell you how to dispose of these products. The authorities will step in and ban any substance when the slightest shred of evidence suggests it’s bad.
    In the meantime use what works the best for your work. Just don’t go pouring it all down the storm drain! Use some sense!
    Either that or we can go back to living in tents and roaming around hunting animals and gathering fruits and grains. Then again someone would complain about the smoke from the campfire is polluting the air and causing cancer.
    This pseudo science nonsense drives me nuts………
    Don’t say I didn’t warn you I told you I was going to vent……

    1. Well said, Tom. I agree with you completely. Actually have nothing to add, just wanted you to know you are not alone in your beliefs.

      Remember, at one time warm blooded animals were the invasive species.

    2. I don’t really care that you “vent”. What I care about is that that bucket of now infected water has to go somewhere. I didn’t watch the Blue Planet thing because I don’t watch TV and that’s because, one, I don’t care for the anxious state I end up in if I watch it and two, I just have more important things to do with the remaining time I have left to contribute to the world. I do however believe that as a result of what I read about the Blue Planet presentation plastics are polluting the environment in many ways and that that we are now witnessing the result of ignoring the signs. It cannot simply be ignored or explained to be validly OK. Surely anyone’s conscience tells them that. The evidence is there. Now me not wanting to watch TV, no moral high ground there, that’s me and not for everyone. I was hoping that someone in the audience might have the exact information for us to quickly look at and consider rather than just a vent that’s all.

      1. Ok, you didn’t see the blue planet thing, neither did I.
        I didn’t even read about it like you did and so you are more informed than I.
        We progress as a species, we do harm that’s for sure but we also do great things for the environment. For example polar bears used to be dwindling in numbers, now there are more polar bears alive and thriving in recorded history. Bald eagles used to be endangered but now they have been removed from the endangered species list because they removed the bounty on eagles ($50 an eagle) 100,000 pair of eagles were destroyed because of the bounty.
        I’m not making light of your concerns, I’m “venting” because of ignorance on the part of many people. It’s a complex issue for sure, we don’t know the effects of what we do for many years after the damage is done. At least we go back and try to correct the problems we create. Did you know there is a sea of plastic the size of Rhode Island in the ocean? We have done a lot of things that need to be rectified. What is the solution for finishes, paint and stain and glues? Should we stop using them entirely?
        Where I live if you throw out a gallon of liquid paint it’s hazardous, but if you let it dry out you can throw it in the trash. Does that make any sense? All you have done is let the VOC escape into the atmosphere, then you can toss it it out.
        If you read the information about Titebond they say there is no harm. Either you believe the government or you don’t, ( I don’t believe the government myself). We leave the decision up to the supposed scientist.

        1. Ignorance is bliss, eh Tom?
          Why did the polar bears nearly become extinct? Or the bald Eagles? Humans.
          “supposed scientist”? How insulting.
          Educate yourself before ranting.

          1. If in doubt about liquid disposal, you could try filtering the water before discarding it, and/or letting it evaporate (painting it over paper can help speed that up), and toss the solids in the trash (as is recommended for latex paint in most of the US).

            Haven’t researched it yet, but as others have said “plastic” is a physical description, not a chemical description, and the real answer you’re looking for depends on exactly which polymer and additives are in use. Casein in milk paint and milk-baded glue is a polymer “plastic” too. So is the protein polymer in hide glue.

            I have always assumed that common woodworking solvents (except perhaps alcohol and of course water) are more of an aggregate issue than glue, but it’s an interesting question and a quick web search doesn’t find a good table of answers. Worth making sure.

            Just make sure you aren’t signing on to a “ban dihydrogen monoxide” campaign…

      2. Paul,
        I’d pay special attention to the replys from Sheldon Ross, Frank Bolata and Michael Cunningham above. I say this as a (former) scientist; not in chemistry or biology, which would have been the specialties of choice for this particular question (my flavor of science happened to be in physics, in which I achieved a Masters degree) but as someone who has read and digested a number of scientific articles and books. One begins to absorb the most reliable sources of information, and while no one source is definitive, one can achieve a sense of reliability on a particular question. The things that impressed me about these gentlemen’s responses were 1) the statement ‘all plastics are polymers, but not all polymers are plastics’, which I happen to know to be true from my own independent sources, 2) Mr. Ross’s flat out statement “(PVA) does biodegrade. The backbone polymer is broken down.” which seems to be based on verifiable facts, and 3) the listing of sources for the information. I, too, am skeptical about information from TV, but I do believe “The Blue Planet,” as much because their main theses are becoming a downright chorus among biologists, chemists and others who are keeping an eye on such things. It is very difficult trying to figure out who to believe in this awful world we are living in, with so many self-serving entities with their own axes to grind, but I applaud you for at least worrying about this, since it DOES matter, to all of us, who are drawing breaths today.

      3. Quibble: “infected” is the wrong word unless you are talking about life. Stick with contaminated.

      4. I agree Paul. BTW poly products have the same fyschical appearence, if it is a polyvinil or a polyethyleen (polypropeen) they can only be broken with enourmes quantity of energy. That includes PVA’s. There is nothing wrong with questioning if it is allowed to drain it. We should be concerned with our planet, period. I would have the same reaction.

    3. Our mere presence on this planet is a danger to every other living species (google Holocene extinction). It’s been going on long before the invention of plastics or the other byproducts of our civilization since we started melting rocks to make iron tools. Even parasites don’t (generally) send their hosts to extinction. I hope my progeny will find a new place to live when this one has been sucked dry.

    4. Yes the government has made a bad name for carbon dioxide even it is completely natural without it would not be plants.
      And regarding your statement about hide glue manufactured by killing animals, that is no problem at all, it is completely permitted to kill animals for the benefit of humans just not to torture them needlessly.

  11. Well I certainly don’t have the answer to the delema, but I did have a funny take on this:

    When I first brought up the image, I thought it was a Cheeseburger. Guess that shows where my mind is.

    I do hope someone comes up with a good solution (no pun intended) for the problem.

    Mike Van Hove
    Columbia, MO

  12. A number of years ago, I finished a couple of interior doors with simple varnish–not just any recipe–this takes a bit of digging- and sorry, I didn’t write down what I used at the time. It seemed a gentler mode of working at the time. I used a cotton rag pad–well washed–to apply and spread the varnish. It was a lot of work, and it took eleven very thin coats before I was satisfied. I have since learned that I was doing something akin to French polishing. Forty years later the doors, well used, look like new. This form of active meditation has potential.
    A second part has to do with sealing end grain. According to Vitruvius, –sorry I can’t give you book and line–it’s been a while since I have had a job with time for such passive meditation–the Ancients sealed end grain with a mixture of wax and copper. About thirty years ago I put up some new exterior door trim, being careful to seal the end grain, although only with primer and paint. I missed one piece. Guess which piece of trim failed.
    Not having to redo is an important part of the answer. Finding safe recipes is another part; not every tree gives sap good for maple syrup.

  13. This is great information to have about PVA. I love learning from people who are seeking to improve how we all live in the world.

  14. I hear you Paul. As someone mentioned I look at the MSDS sheets of products before i buy them. At least with finishes etc. One for the environment but also I have gained sensitivity to chemicals. I used to use Briwax but now the second I open the can I get a headache, eyes burn, feel nauseous, and if it gets on my skin my skin gets dry and flaky/cracka for several days. Hazard Code 411 of Section #2 of the MSDS mentions water supply, and how long the effects are. I was surprised to see this on the MSDS for general finishes orange oil which i have been using to rejuvanate old furniture(as I thought orange oil as being pretty organic):

    “H411 – Toxic to aquatic life with long lasting effects.”

  15. Found this :http://www.ampolymer.com/SDS/PolyvinylAcetateSDS.html
    Section 6: Accidental Release Measures
    Personal Precautions, Protective Equipment & Emergency Procedures: Spilled material may cause a slipping hazard. Avoid dust formation. Keep unnecessary and unprotected personnel from entering the area. Use appropriate safety equipment. For additional information, refer to Section 8: Exposure Controls & Personal Protection.
    Environmental Precautions: Prevent from entering into soil, ditches, sewers, waterways and/or groundwater. For additional information, refer to Section 12: Ecological Information.
    Methods & Materials for Containment & Clean Up: Contain spilled material if possible. Sweep up. Collect in suitable and properly labeled containers. For additional information, refer to Section 13: Disposal Considerations.

  16. Those who trash talk scientists and suggest that no science results are believable because scientists are just making money have no idea what they are talking about. In every area of science, there are more people wanting to work in the field than there are jobs and by a huge factor. If a person can disprove something substantial published by another scientist, then his or her career is made. Young scientists clawing to stay in the field work seven days a week for decades. I used to work from 7 am until midnight and then wake up every two hours through the night for five minutes to reload batch queues that were processing data. I’d do that for months, then go back to the 7am to midnight until the next data crunch. This is the intensity of the people trying to do science and get into the fields. Once they are in, they just keep at it. Olympians are children compared to scientists. They both start at the same age, both work with the same intensity, both make the same sacrifices, but when an Olympian is too old to compete when 20 something years old, the scientist has another decade to go before even really being in the field.

    Yes, science makes mistakes. Yes, there can be bad actors. Yes, it can be hard to get new ideas accepted. But, if there is little chance of succeeding at cheating and if something that matters is wrong, it will be found out.

  17. Interesting that you are worried by this but will happily fly abroad. All flights cause massive pollution, daily. The authorities are quick to blame air pollution on traffic but ignore the, much worse, Jumbo in the sky!
    You are right to be worried about putting these waste products into the public water system, it is just a shame that the authorities don’t feel the same, in fact they purposefully dump toxic industrial waste chemicals into our water supply and try to convince us it is for our own good.
    It makes you wonder where the massive increase in all these diseases really comes from, doesn’t it!

  18. I share your concerns, Paul. So far, no one has given the answer yet in the comments. Some people are talking about poly vinyl alcohol, but the issue is with poly vinyl acetate. The MSDS says ‘no data available’ at the ecological information section. To me, that in itself is reason for caution. Sewer water treatment plants have difficulty getting rid of hormones and prescription drugs, so I wouldn’t rely on them to get rid of plastics.

    1. I thank you and several others for the practical contributions here. It’s more a question of looking to see if what we are doing has as yet unknown consequences and then getting around authorities, organisations, manufacturer’s and even just commenters who speak more as just dismissives rather than giving us the truth of they just don’t know.

    2. That might be because the two are not far from each other. The alcohol is even used in the actual glue solution. It’s not just wood glue either. Your regular ‘Elmer’s Glue All’ that we use for everything kids here is also PVA.

      To quote, the glue is “an aqueous emulsion of mostly vinyl acetate monomer”, i.e. not the plastic you think of. The dried glued is then polymerized (PVAc) which is the true thermoplastic polymer.

      “A number of microorganisms can degrade polyvinyl acetate. Most commonly, damage is caused by filamentous fungi—however algae, yeasts, lichens, and bacteria can also degrade polyvinyl acetate.”

      What their cited report doesn’t seem to include is a way for me to know whether I can just compost the PVA glue like someone suggested in a comment above. It does seem possible but there might also be a question of either time or temperature involved. Many things are not compostable in your backyard compost (like meat) while it’s totally OK to put meat into your municipal compost if they use hot composting. Our town does so and allow meat in the compost bin. So the answer might be: It depends!



      1. Although I agree with you, Please dont use wikipedia as a valid source…. 🙂

        1. I do agree with you for certain other contexts. I wouldn’t have used (and didn’t use) Wikipedia in my Master thesis for example. In general use ‘on the interwebs’ though, I find it more than acceptable, if checking source references (I skimmed through the citation – #2 on the PVA article – myself to see if I could find anything about temperature etc.)

          So no problem citing something you might find more palatable although it seems the Wikipedia entries have just as much if not better information and citations I can go check myself. For example, I don’t see anything about decomposition on here at all:


  19. Regarding plastic bags, I read just this week two articles on biodegradable plastics, textil bags and plastic vs. glass bottles. It came down to how often something is used: a reused plastic bag was better than a cotton bag that was used only a few times, they stated it need to be used 100 times to have a comparable ecobalance. Similar with bottles: reused plastic bottles were better than one time used glass bottles. Some plastics appear to degrade in air and soil fairly quickly, but hardly in the oceans.

    This is oversimplifying things, but I think it paints a practical picture: stuff used as often and as long as possible is always preferable. And that has implications for everything, be it a computer, mobile phone, cars, an IKEA shelf, bags and bottles, pens and so on. And when something reaches its end of life cycle, recycling is desirable.

    1. The major problem here is that manufacturers are deliberately designing and making products to fail after a very short time in use un order to force us into buying replacements. And electronic items, like Hi-Fi, have software built in which actually PREVENTS any local service agent from opening the casing without rendering the whole unit scrap.

  20. Hey Tom…New England was also once a cloud of coalescing gas, floating in space and that’s part of the natural process of stellar birth and decay that created the carbon and iron in our bodies – but I’d rather we don’t induce a dramatic, sudden climactic shift while we’re at the current population level. I’d hate for my nephews to be stuck dealing with it. I think there’s a roll for scientists and government to reduce carbon – the way the treaty on CFCs has slowed the reduction in ozone depletion.

    You’re not really venting – you’re spouting talking points. Fox and the rest of the right wing machine has convinced you that there’s no roll for government beyond national defence and you’re now a brainwashed, yappy little mouthpiece.

    1. Paul et al. I copied this from the MSDS sheet:
      Environmental precaution: Avoid dispersal of spilled material and runoff and contact with soil, waterways, drains and sewers. Inform the relevant authorities if the product has caused environmental pollution (sewers, waterways, soil or air).Personal precautions:Large spill:Stop leak if without risk. Move containers from spill area. Dispose of via a licensed waste disposal contractor. Absorb with an inert material.

      Here is a link to the MSDS sheet. https://www.msdsdigital.com/titebond-original-wood-glue-msds

  21. https://uwaterloo.ca/fine-arts/sites/ca.fine-arts/files/uploads/files/pva_adhesive.pdf
    Hello folks,
    No critical hazards per section 3.

    Section 12 discusses ecological concerns such as degradation, bioaccumulation, and ecotoxic effects. This section does say that DOC (I have no idea what this stands for and it is not defined in the paper.) It states these can be eliminated by absorption into activated sludge. I am not sure what this is either. I would speculate for a small scale home use waste system this could be a container of dirt and charcoal chunks. One might pour the offending liquid into the container and patiently wait for evaporation. the dry remnants could then be disposed of without harm to the water supply.

    Section 13 discusses disposal. It does state,” Waste product should not be discharged into drains or waterways without treatment.” They then refer you to local and national law regarding disposal .

    These items would, of course, lead to more research and speculation. I do believe they are saying do not wash pva down the drain. If that was your question. I am positive there are others who might give a more informed response. I would be interested in seeing some in these comments.
    Dave O

    1. My suspicion, and it is just that, is that the washing out of brushes and rollers after use is not as innocuous so neither is the glue when still in liquid form, diluted or not. PVA is used extensively in other industries for sealing and bonding too. The implication through instructions on the can is that safety is taken care of. it seems more likely to me that some kind of compromise is agreed or agreeable between industry and government as to its acceptability depends on the users but it is all still very questionable; “Remove any excess material and wash equipment in warm soapy water.” It says nothing about discarding washing and rinsing water via the kitchen sink and into the water systems. This of course implies safe practice but it does not mean its safe once done. The next question for me would is there a safer way to dispose of the washing out water?

      1. We don’t have connection to sewerage so we have a septic tank. I wash various water based products, as well as minute quantities of turpentine, acetone, kerosene and alcohol in a sink that drains to that tank and have for many years – the septic system still functions fine and the soakage drain from the tank grows very lush grass. Harsher chemicals such as 2 part polyurethane solvents and other nasty solvents such as paint-stripper, xylene and the like get poured onto the gravel driveway.
        But ultimately it has to end up somewhere and as it is mostly not biodegradable it pollutes the environment. So your concern is well founded – and shared. The only real answer is to stop using those products.

  22. I’m glad you raised this Paul. I too often wonder what we are supposed to do with waste products from gluing and painting. I can drive hazardous waste six miles across London to a disposal facility but have no way of knowing what is done with it then. I worry it goes into landfill somewhere. It may even be exported and dumped in the backyard of some poorer country. I think the only answer really is to try to find products that are genuinely bio-degradable but that too is not as straightforward as we’d like it to be. Perhaps we should minimise glue use and rely on mechanical methods like draw-boring whenever we can.

  23. Hi Paul,
    My professional career is as a PhD chemist. As such, I have been thinking of waste since the mid 80s. Back as au under grad, chemical waster from our university was still packed in drums and buried. The prof I was working with said to make sure we label it well (pen and pencil and grease pen) because at some point in the future they would probably want to dig it up. Your thinking of is this a problem that hasn’t been addressed is a good way to think of things.

    Just because you can toss it in the trash or down the drain doesn’t mean you should. My chemical intuition tells me these specifically materials you mentioned shojld decompose in a reasonable amount of time if introduced to waste streams.

    Another practical way to hasten the decomposition would be to toss the solid glue waste onto a hot fire and convert it to carbon dioxide. As for the aqueous waste, you could let the water evaporate and then scrape up the minimal solids. This is,in fact what we used to do when I was a college student and helping out with the waste stream with general chemistry. We should take tha aqueous waste, pour it into trays and let the water evaporate to get down to solids to minimize the volume of waste.

    I suggested burning these solid wastes as a practical alternative. If you don’t want to do that, you could take the solids to the local household hazardous waste site and drop it off there. I do that on a regular basis for expired glue, finishes, old batteries, pesticides, etc. I don’t know how they dispose of it.

    I hope this helps. My dad taught me in late 60s and early 70s to live gently off the earth.

    1. Thank you for this, Joe. It is important not to take too much for granted in this day and age because as we have seen it is often not our generation that suffers the consequences of actions but the ensuing ones. I like to think we can at least be responsible now for what we know and work with what we’ve got to go on.

      1. This question on PVA and the waste chimes with what I have been wondering about the use of modern finishes, paints and varnishes. Many of them being formed of plastics. I have been reading about using possibly finishes which are less impacting on the environemnt like linseed paints, lime washes, milk paints etc. Are they really more work to use, or the backward way of finishing which does not work as well as modern paints?

        Does anyone have any thoughts on this?

        1. There are of course a number of reasons for the “modern” paints and finishes to have been developed but environmental concerns were not one. Time for a finish to dry and a growing petrochemical industry who wanted a market for their products was strong motivating factors as well as the resistance to grease and washing of surfaces.
          In the (not so distant) past walls were painted with paints made from pigments, fillers like chalk and glue dissolved in water. This type of paint dried reasonably quick but had to be applied for whole walls/ceilings in one go or there would be a visible “seam” in the painted surface. This required a skilled workman to get good results and the paints were not as resistant to grease and are not too withstanding to wiping off with wet sponges etc.

          For linseed paint, the drying time was long, which was a detriment to productivity and mass market production. It also requires a skilled workman to get good results. Shortening the drying time can be achieved by adding siccative and those are neither environmentally safe nor healthy. Also the production of the high quality linseed oil that is needed for paint is more expensive and, surprise, requires skilled labour and knowledge.
          One issue with the supply of linseed oil was WW1 as a lot of production was in Argentina and the blockade of shipping across the Atlantic during the war killed the market for them and they had to move to other crops. Then the petroelum industry ramped up production and needed to open a market for products made from the residue after diesel and petrol production which further made the competition tough.

          A lot of the paint types you ask about are very good and in many respects are superior to modern finishes but requires a bit more work initally but mostly needs someone with know how and skill to mix and use. This is quite possible to gain and practice for the amateur but it is harder to do as a professional as it requires a discerning customer who is willing to pay for the extra initial cost.
          Using many of these finishes is a better economy in the long run as the interval for repainting e.g. a window painted with linseed paint is longer from “modern” paints. The maintenance is possible to do without a full repaint.
          I think you should try it, there are lots of resources online to read about this and learn how to do it.

          1. Thanks Jim. What you say is similar to what I have read about the paints. One point about the paint finishes being hard to master. I have found is ubiquitous throught the use of water based paints for woodwork is a poor finish. I believe this is why professionals prefer oil based over water based finish for the easier and better finish. Makes me wonder about linseed finishes. Aside from the drying time being slow, are they really hard to get a good finish? I am going to give it a go!

          2. It’s mostly to do with longer open time allowing the paint to flow out. Professional painters have the edge in that they know exactly how much to apply to get that ‘flow on and flow out’ without getting runs. Amateurs like the waterbased because it is quick to apply, quick to dry and there is no smell. They also feel it is a safer option but the jury is still out on that.

  24. In Belgium, this polluted water, chemicals, leftover paints, oils, etc. should be disposed in special places.

  25. I have the pleasure of working in the UK water industry and have some experience of the Waste Water process. Considering what goes into our sewers (household sink/toilet, run off from roads/roofs/agriculture, industrial chemical/biological waste…), within 6-8 hours it is returned to the water course cleaner than the river water so improving raw water quality. It’s an incredibly effective and well regulated process. I have faith that what can be taken out is taken out of waste water.

    The real issue is products and manufacturing processes, which is driven by the fact that everyone wants everything as cheap as possible. Everything we use or consume has plastic in it, on it, or made it’s production possible. We can change the types of plastic, but we are too involved with plastic to remove even a small percentage of it.

  26. It is heartwarming to see the concern in this blog. Unfortunately there are far too many people who are prepared to live by the saying (what the eye doesn’t see)

  27. Hi Paul,

    I can not help you with the PVA, but I allow myself to make a suggestion for further projects.

    You could use a totally natural alternative to PVA – Bone glue. Long used for ages, creates very strong connections and it is reversible. You just have to treat the connections with hot water to loosen them and after that, it can dry out again.

    You can buy dry bone-glue via Amazon.

    Maybe this can help to prevent toxic waste for the future.



    1. Thanks Victoria, `my sense of all this is that we can continue using PVA but be conscious of washing out. Ideally application will be by glue stick or bottler applicator which is mostly what we do. I recently applied glue of=ver a large area because it was efficient and even. Washing out the roller made me concerned. Most applications of adhesive is direct and with little wastage of product. I also agree on the bone glue which was used for millennia and with direct advantages. Mostly it is the convenience of bottled glues that appeals. Also, it is when you come to applied finishes that seems to be the most problematic in an age when we want not to use throwaway sponge (plastic) applicators and also brushes. Mainly, again, it the cleaning of utensils that is the core issue. You see we automatically think waterborne finishes and glues are safe.

  28. PVA does not compost. Various fungi mechanically break the film down into smaller particles, but they are not degraded easily into their chemical constituents. Do a quick search for “scholarly does pva compost” and you will find lots of articles.

    The only finishes we have that actually do compost (that is organisms in the soil break them down into chemical components that the organism uses for food) are natural ones like polyurethane, linseed oil, shellac, hoof glue, beeswax and so on.

    Latex does compost, though slowly. As does some rubbers.

  29. To start with I do not believe CO2 is a pollutant, without it we have no plants, without plants we have no food. Most climate “science is done with computer models which haven’t been right yet, it’s not based on long study and observation, As far as what has been said about scientists working for money there is truth not the full truth. Climate science tends to be paid for by governments, political bodies and they’re thrust is money to pay for programs to stay in power, if they employ you you find out what they need to convince you. Plastic bags, we know they can be made biodegradable, bags are made for cleaning up pet waste and sold, the same technology can be used for the bags used by supermarkets. Dig into how the ethanol is made to add to gasoline to “clean it up” and the resultant power loss so more is used to do the same job while the amount of pollution to make the ethanol is greater than what is used to clean the gasoline. As far as the increase in disease, look at the population growth and the movement of people. Petroleum is a natural product, we are a part of nature so do eliminate ourselves and stop using a cheap product or do we learn to use it safely? Do we really want a cooler climate, we haven’t reached the level that was here when Rome was at its pinnacle and before the dark ages. Global cooling causes a lack of vegetative growth which means starvation and famine which means susceptibility to disease and the results, plague, want that again?
    Rather than all the hyperbole and thoughtless “ban it it’s bad”, it’s time to ask questions and do the time consuming work of study to make it work. Wind farms kill tens of thousand birds a year and what do you do with them when it’s time to displace them, they aren’t biodegradable and that’s only one problem with them. Most solar farms kill tens of thousands of birds by burning them alive when they fly over, the solar panels have a limited lifetime and are not economically recyclable, what do we do with them. There is so much rhetoric flying around and little “what is the truth and what do we do about it”, Paul asked about it and the questions are reasonable so what are the answers? Let’s study and observe see what the final products are then we can find answers. We banned a product that had an amount of arsenic in it and replaced with something that doesn’t work as well and has it’s own problems not by science but hyperbole. There were no instances in which the old pressure treat lumber caused a death or illness but billions were spent replacing it. Many folks were put out of work and/or lost everything because the alar scare, it was a spray used on apples, why we even had actors testify before congress about how bad it was, a very few years later it was found to be completely harmless. We see drugs being banned and lawsuits pushing the costs through the roof without realizing anything that you put in your body has side effects, people die taking aspirin, eating peanut butter or seafood or this and that.
    Study and observe then let’s talk.

  30. Sorry for the rant Paul, you have questions, only study and observation will give us the answers you ask, some were posted and it didn’t stop there, it’s what triggers me. Again, I apologize for the rant!! Can we get back to woodworking now?

  31. PVA is a plastic derived from oil derivatives. It is not compostable (according to astm D6400 which is the standard) in 90 days under standard conditions. I know there is some work that is ongoing to come up with alternatives that have less impact in general industry.

    Source: engineer at a glue company

    I think that many other options are possible but the combination of cost and ease of use has most people using the PVA types. There will be multiple downsides to adhesives that will more readily breakdown. The terrible but effective “we’ve always used this glue” argument probably is a reason as well.

  32. As far as I know, as a trained chemist (doing my PhD in chemistry), the biodegradability of vinyl acetate (which is the building block of PVA, present in the bottle) is not so bad.

    Most issues with degradability of polymers is that bacteria and fungi cannot process them because of a lack of metabolic ‘handles’ so to say. They cannot get their ‘mouths to bite into’ the polymer.
    Luckyly for vinyl acetate, the acetate functionality in the molecule is a natural metabolic group. Therefore I do not see issues with the biodegradability of this compound. The molecular structure is actually very similar to acetic acid (the acid in vinegar) which is actually a common occurring molecule in many digestive tracts of bacteria.

    I do see your concern, but based on my experience, I would say that the environmental load and damage of washing away still-liquid and diluted PVA glue is minimal.

  33. From Wikipedia “A number of microorganisms can degrade polyvinyl acetate. Most commonly, damage is caused by filamentous fungi—however algae, yeasts, lichens, and bacteria can also degrade polyvinyl acetate.[2]” I would say it is biodegradable. One thing I like to keep in mind about chemicals Is that WATER can kill you in about 5 different ways. Nothing is completely safe.

  34. Franklin International the makers of Titebond has MSDS sheets for all their products. They can be found on the following web page

    Section 13 of the Titebond MSDS is titled “Disposal Considerations” and it basically says to comply with your regional authority disposal requirements. It states that “Waste should not be disposed of untreated to the sewer unless fully compliant with the requirements of all authorities with jurisdiction.” It also states “Waste packaging should be recycled. Incineration or landfill should only be considered when recycling is not feasible. “

  35. guys, it came from the earth & it’s going back in the earth.
    the humans on this planet have much bigger toxics to
    worry about than this stuff. think HVLP coatings, for inatance.
    that said it’s good to think about these things & realize that
    nanny gov’t isn’t meant to relieve us of personal responsibility.

    bill a

  36. The semi-stable monomeric vinyl acetate form in the diluted glue residue is Paul’s main concern here. It does cause tumors in mammals with high exposure (like most reactive chemicals used to make plastic) and somewhat toxic. Exposure danger is by ingestion or inhalation. Once ingested, most of it is converted to vinyl alcohol (unstable) and then to acetaldehyde, a waste product of metabolism normally found at low amounts in the body. The thought is that high levels of the breakdown products are the components that cause tumors to form, so the carcinogenic effect is indirect. The EPA rates the human cancer risk in humans as ‘unknown’, which is why people may think it is perfectly safe, but it also may easily mean that insufficient evidence with humans is available. The pubchem link below lists various citations reviewing the literature supporting this summary.


    All that said, and getting back to Paul’s initial question, I don’t know how to conveniently inactivate the diluted monomers except maybe by concentrating the liquid (eg. partial drying) and mixing it with some solid substrate that it can react with to form the polymer, such as wood shavings (or dirt in a bucket?).

    Eventually the polymerized PVA will end up in a landfill and decompose (into who knows what?) or get burned in a trash incinerator which should turn ‘most’ of it to carbon, carbon monoxide, and carbon dioxide.

  37. Following up on Martijn van der Plaa’s comment:

    PVA and Latex (acrylic) paints are chemically similar. For those with a scientific bent and wanting references, this article describes and shows the environmental decomposition of PVA:

    The decomposition from PVA to CO2 is via biological action in a natural environment, as other people have mentioned. However UV light will also literally “break” the polymers over time- that’s why your paint breaks down and needs replacing.

    Where I live, the advice for disposal of water used for cleaning paint brushes and PVA is to tip it on your lawn. This avoids the stormwater system which usually drains to the sea, and doesn’t burden the wastewater system unecessarily. It works. If it’s dilute enough, any trace disappears within about 3 days (if it is not diluted, it will kill the grass leaves through suffocation, but the roots survive). I imagine if you live in a desert or somewhere where the soils are not biologically active it will take longer.

    Environmentally, the production and distribution of PVA and paint is probably a bigger issue. But not all paints are created equally- check the additives!

  38. Paul,
    As a fellow Texan, it pains me to have to write this but here goes;
    I have followed you for years and I have learned much from you and I am very appreciative of your efforts. But, it’s getting harder to take you seriously when in one post you blog about flying half way around the world and back in one of the largest planes on earth, just to visit family. Then the next post you take the moral high ground and spout off nonsense about some dried glue in your tray and how it pollutes the environment.

    You are one of the best woodworkers in the world who thankfully wants to share your skills, but I think your YouTube fame is getting the best of you. We are all here to learn woodworking and we all want to learn from you. Please get back to the basics and start building furniture again! Please…

    1. just to visit family.” You say that as if it were some trivial pursuit yet you know nothing of the whole. I see judgementalism and self righteousness reigns even in us Texans.

  39. I agree with many of the commenst above, PVA is a relatively minor worry when it comes to the environment.
    A lot of the discussion is around whether its safe to dispose of these types of products and, even if an SDS says it’s “safe” because its not an environmental hazard, it doesn’t kill fish etc, doesn’t mean you should throw it down the sink.
    The liquid product down the sink “may” not harm the rivers or kill the bacteria used in water treatment plants but the product still ends up in the environment in some way. It might settle to the bottom of a river, it may get filtered out at the water treatment plant and then either burned or dumped in landfill or something else, if you leave it as a solid to degrade in the sun, what degredation products are there and where do they go? Into the environment!
    Either way, once its been manufactured there is NOTHING you can do to stop it entering our environment in some form or other. Hopefully that form will not cause harm and will break down into something useful, and in the case of PVA that is probably the case, but many products do not break down well or at all, unless we process them with more chemicals and energy intensive processes or burn them.
    I’m a Regulatory Specialist working in the chemical industry and see all sorts of information relating to the hazards of chemicals. The chemical industry and regulatory bodies are doing things to reduce the hazardous substances we use and dispose of but at the end of the day, we all want to buy “stuff” and that all has an effect on our planet. Disposal of the majority of the things we buy usually does not even get considered until we need to throw it away, then we just throw it in the bin and assume that the local waste site is set up to do that for us, or we chuck it down the sink “because the tin says its safe”.

    Sorry to now go off topic a little, but I think the biggest problem with our planet, that nobody seems willing to talk about, is the ever increasing population. No matter how green and environmentally friendly we make everything, if the planet’s population continues to grow, the Earth’s resources will continue to be used up in one way or another and we will need more and more of it. We need to stop procreating!

    1. Maybe the greater problem is not to do with population too. I can think of two dozen other problems that we should be facing not the least of which is ever more greed and consumerism being promoted by economists feathering their own nests. Maybe fear of losing personal comfort and advantage is the greater problem. We must have genuine enquiry as we can’t just toss comments over the shoulder. Is it the population of people that’s too large or the population of cows and pigs to satisfy the insatiable demands. I don’t know the answer. I’m trying to tackle what’s directly in front of me rather than forcing my will on others.

  40. Thats true, the population as a whole puts demands on the system and those demands in many cases could be considered too great. Especially as there are so many people in the world who have so little.

  41. Wow, quite a large response, I doubt I have much to add. Either way, there’s a few points worth considering. First off, you use shavings to wipe off excess glue during glue ups, right? It may not be able to be dumped down the drain, but the point still somewhat remains, and I personally haven’t seen any remnants myself after a good year in the compost. I’d agree with the many that stated that not all plastics are the same. PVA is only different from PVC by way of the acetate (aka vineger) anion vs chloride anion, but do you see PVA plumbing anywhere? Solubility aside, organic acids naturally can break down, in this case acetate converts into acetone and then is consumed by ketone metabolising bacteria and fungi, thus rendering the vinyl part unstable and can readily decompose into basic hydrocarbons (sugars and the such).
    I have grown oyster mushrooms with motor oil contaminated substrate, as well as grocery bags, and it surprisingly broke down the stuff to varying degrees. That said, I didn’t do it with wood glue or urethane, but it still goes to show that the world has peculiar ways of cleaning up messes.
    That all said, I would never recommend dumping a bottle of wood glue down the toilet, but I don’t think you’re doing more harm than other trades by any stretch by rinsing a roller. The harm done by letting it dry and throwing it away just to buy a new one is worse in my opinion. I used to have a painting company, I washed a lot of latex down the drains, but I felt it was the lesser of 2 evils compared to solvent based paints, even if I could reuse solvent for brush cleanup, simply for VOC pollution. Air is harder to clean than water…

  42. Bud,

    That’s the kind of ignorant and dismissive guff that’s causing a whole lot of problems for the youngsters down the line and those yet to follow.

    A man should think about the impact his decisions and actions have, the consequences and the costs, not only what he may stand to gain. He should put his family first, his community and fellow man second and somewhat further down the list, his own interests. As a Texan, I’d have thought you would have those priorities straight.

    Paul is doing all those things, including giving simple consideration to what happens when he puts something man-made into the water systems from which we all draw. It’s part of what makes him the man he is, so hold your horses there with your demands and take a step back and a few minutes to think about how rude you’re being. You do yourself no favours, nor your fellow Texans when you choose to behave like that after identifying yourself as one.

    Woodworking depends on natures wellbeing, as does our own. Give it a little more thought before running your mouth off next time.

  43. That’s why I use almost only hot glue and titebond as less as I can.

  44. Hi,
    Water-based only means that the solvent is water. Remember the solvent helps to avoid the resin to cure by itself but then it evaporates and the plastic resin itself is about the same. Today, polyvinyl acetate has not classification about being dangerous. But the resultant plastic material stays.

    The only real advantage (it is very important, however) using water-based product is to avoid using solvent and having solvent vapour in the atmosphere.

    Apart from animal glues/hide glue, there is no real “safe” product.


  45. Aloha Paul,
    Titebond 2, being PVA was used to make my own contact ‘heated’ glue to gluing veneers and form a waterproof bond. Paint the surfaces with the glue, but don’t bring them in contact until you are ready and the glue has dried. Now take a clean clothes ‘iron’ and apply heat and pressure to bond veneer to the substrate. The bond will be waterproof. This works well with curved surfaces as well as flat surfaces in a Vacuum Press to make up parts for your furniture.


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