Fundamental principles and concepts of biodegradability - Sorting through the facts, hypes, and claims of biodegradable products in the marketplace

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contribution

Abstract

Polymer modifiers, additives, latexes, laminates, and coatings have found significant usage in paper and paperboard products. Most of these are not biodegradable. Biodegradability is an end-of-life option that allows one to harness the power of microorganism present in the selected disposal environment to completely remove plastic products designed for biodegradability from the environmental compartment via the microbial food chain in a timely, safe, and efficacious manner. Because it is an end-of-life option, and harnesses microorganisms present in the selected disposal environment, one must clearly identify the "disposal environment" when discussing or reporting the biodegradability of a product - for example, biodegradability under composting conditions (compostable plastic), under soil conditions, under anaerobic conditions (anaerobic digestors, landfills), or under marine conditions. Specifying time to complete biodegradation or put in a better way time to complete microbial assimilation of the test plastic in the selected disposal environment is an essential requirement - so stating that it will eventually biodegrade or it is partially biodegradable or it is degradable is not acceptable. Basic biology and biochemistry teaches that microorganisms utilize/consume carbon substrates by transporting the material inside its cell, oxidizing the carbon to CO2, which releases energy that it harnesses for its life processes (discussed in more detail later in the paper). So a measure of the evolved CO2 is a direct measure of the ability of the microorganisms present in that disposal environment to utilize the carbon plastic product. Unfortunately, there is a growing number of misleading, deceptive, and scientifically unsubstantiated biodegradability claims proliferating in the marketplace. This is causing confusion and skepticism among consumers, end-users, and other concerned stakeholders - in turn this is bound to hurt not only the fledgling bioplastics industry, but the plastics industry as a whole. In the case of modified paper products, this raises even more issues since the coating or modifier or laminate is a small percent of the total paper product. Given that unmodified paper from a paper manufacturing process is generally biodegradable, the biodegradability of the plastic materials incorporated into paper becomes an issue. In this paper, we present fundamental principles underlying biodegradability of polymer materials in the environment, and the value proposition it offers. The scientific basis and standard test methodology for measuring biodegradability is reviewed, and the claims being made in the marketplace is discussed in the context of the standards and biodegradability principles. The paper also provides the terminology and distinction between biodegradability (end-of-life scenario) and bio or renewable based which addresses the feedstock being used to manufacture the product.

LanguageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationTAPPI 2nd Annual PaperCon'09 Conference - Solutions for a Changing World
StatePublished - 2009
EventTAPPI 2nd Annual PaperCon'09 Conference - Solutions for a Changing World - St. Louis, MO, United States
Duration: May 31 2009Jun 3 2009

Other

OtherTAPPI 2nd Annual PaperCon'09 Conference - Solutions for a Changing World
CountryUnited States
CitySt. Louis, MO
Period5/31/096/3/09

Profile

Biodegradability
Sorting
Microorganisms
Plastic products
Paper products
Carbon
Carbon Monoxide
Plastics
Laminates
Polymers
Plastics industry
Coatings
Biochemistry
Composting
Paperboards
Latex
Terminology
Biodegradation
Land fill
Latexes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Industrial and Manufacturing Engineering
  • Biomaterials
  • Surfaces, Coatings and Films

Cite this

Fundamental principles and concepts of biodegradability - Sorting through the facts, hypes, and claims of biodegradable products in the marketplace. / Narayan, Ramani.

TAPPI 2nd Annual PaperCon'09 Conference - Solutions for a Changing World. 2009.

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contribution

Narayan, R 2009, Fundamental principles and concepts of biodegradability - Sorting through the facts, hypes, and claims of biodegradable products in the marketplace. in TAPPI 2nd Annual PaperCon'09 Conference - Solutions for a Changing World. TAPPI 2nd Annual PaperCon'09 Conference - Solutions for a Changing World, St. Louis, MO, United States, 5/31/09.
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