Everything under control: Biodegradation of plastic films

Newsletter 01/2021

How does a biodegradable plastic degrade? What needs to be considered in the product design of biodegradable plastic products? CCPE employees analyse the fragmentation and polymer-physical plastic properties on the way to the metabolisation of the plastic by microorganisms.

© Fraunhofer UMSICHT
Plastic films in the test rig for ageing with soil contact, controlled soil moisture and UV radiation.

With increasing awareness of the accumulation of plastic waste in the environment accompanies an heightened interest in biodegradable plastics. Throughout its life cycle, a biodegradable plastic product goes through different phases. Starting with the use phase when the product is fully functional, the so-called fragmentation follows as the first step of degradation. This is followed by the splitting of the polymer chains and metabolisation by microorganisms. For products that are used in the environment, it is crucial to understand how the degradation phases take place.

Researchers at Fraunhofer UMSICHT are working on precisely this question. The fragmentation of plastics is simulated in the laboratory in an application-specific manner under controlled conditions but nevertheless close to reality. Products such as films, injection moulded

components or filaments are exposed to conditions that are close to the application. During this process, we look under the skin of the plastics. A wide variety of analytical methods are combined to link the observations with polymer-physical properties.

We use these results to optimise plastic formulations for specific applications and to describe the life cycle of biodegradable plastic products. We are currently conducting a series of experiments to investigate how plastic films with soil contact age and degrade under different soil moisture, soil type and UV radiation.

Contact: Mona Duhme (mona.duhme@umsicht.fraunhofer.de)

Further information at https://www.umsicht.fraunhofer.de/de/kompetenzen/zirkulaere-biobasierte-kunststoffe.html