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Plastics & Elastomers
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Plastics & Elastomers


Biodegradability of Plastics

End of Life Terminology

Biodegradation is the property of a material that can be completely converted into water, CO2, and biomass through the action of microorganisms such as fungi and bacteria. Biodegradable plastics have the ability to be degraded by microorganisms present in the environment by entering the microbial food chain.

Biodegradable polymers are not defined in terms of their raw-material basis

This property is not dependent on the origin of the raw materials, but only on the chemical composition of the polymers.

 » Select the Suitable "Biodegradable" Plastic Grade Meeting your Requirement 

As disposal conditions vary dramatically from one place to another, biodegradation of plastics is not a uniform process. Biodegradation of polymers can be tailored specifically for controlled degradation under the inherent environmental stress in biological systems either unaided or by enzyme assisted mechanisms.

Check out more on Biodegradation of Plastics:

 » Types of Biodegradable Plastics
 » Biodegradable Vs. Compostable Comparison
 » Standards and Tests to Measure Biodegradability of Plastics
 » Biodegradation - Property values for several plastics

Type of Biodegradable Plastics

There are two main types of biodegradable plastics:

  1. Oxo-biodegradable
  2. Hydro-biodegradable

In both cases, degradation begins with a chemical process (oxidation and hydrolysis respectively), followed by a biological process. Both types emit CO2 as they degrade, but hydro-biodegradable plastics can also emit methane.

Both types of biodegradable plastics are compostable, but only the former can be recycled.

Oxo-Biodegradable Plastic (OBP) Hydro-Biodegradable Plastic (HBP)
Made by adding a small portion of fatty acid compounds of specific transition metals to traditional plastics Made from bio-based sources such as corn, wheat, sugar-cane, petroleum-based sources or a blend of the two
Does not claim to meet compostability standards. Claims biodegradability according to:
  • ASTM D5988
  • ASTM D6954-04 standards conducted by independent laboratories like
  • Smithers-RAPRA (US/UK)
  • Pyxis (UK), and
  • Applus (Spain)
Meets the standards:
  • ASTM (The U.S. based American Society for Testing and Materials) D6400-04 and
  • EN (European Standards) 13432, developed for compostability

Quoted standards relate to the performance of plastics in a commercially managed compost facility and are not biodegradation standards
OBP carbon is converted to CO2 over a longer time frame Degrade and biodegrade more quickly than OBP
  • Undergo chemical degradation, by hydrolysis and oxidation respectively
  • Degrades by oxidative chain scission catalyzed by the metal salts, leading to the production of shorter chain molecules
  • In oxygen-containing environments, plastics containing oxo-degradation additives will degrade and fragment
  • Fragments that are smaller and have lower molecular weight are conducive to biodegradation

Biodegradable Vs. Compostable

Biodegradable and compostable are terms used when describing organic materials breaking down in a specific environment. Both terms are often used when defining environmentally friendly products and are often misused!

Compostable V/s Biodegradable

Compostable plastics are biodegradable in composting conditions, while other plastics degrade in the soil (landfills or anaerobic digestors).

It is important to note that compostability is a characteristic of a product, packaging or associated component that allows it to biodegrade under specific conditions (e.g. a certain temperature, timeframe, etc.). Hence, the primary difference between compostable and biodegradable is that compostable plastics are biodegradable in composting conditions, while other plastics degrade in the soil (landfills or anaerobic digestors).

Compostable is always biodegradable
Biodegradable is not always compostable

Some biodegradable plastics available in the market are:

  • Starch-based plastics
  • Bacteria-based plastics
  • Soy-based plastics
  • Cellulose-based plastics
  • Lignin-based plastics and
  • Natural fibers reinforcement plastic

 » Find All Bio-based Plastic Grades Available in the Market here! 

Standards and Tests to Measure Biodegradability of Plastics

The most widely used standard tests measuring biodegradability of plastics are ASTM D 6400, EN 13432 or EN 14995, ISO 17088. (of course, there exist several other methods as well, but they are not discussed here)

ASTM D6400 - Standard Specification for Labeling of Plastics Designed to be Aerobically Composted in Municipal or Industrial Facilities

The properties in this specification are those required to determine if end items (including packaging), which use plastics and polymers as coatings or binders will compost satisfactorily, in large scale aerobic municipal or industrial composting facilities. Maximum throughput is a high priority to composters and the intermediate stages of plastic disintegration and biodegradation are not visible to the end user for aesthetic reasons.

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European standard, EN 13432 “Requirements for packaging recoverable through composting and biodegradation – test scheme and evaluation criteria for the final acceptance of packaging”

Certification ensures that the product can be industrially composted and that not only the plastic but also all other components of the product are compostable, e.g. colors, labels, glues and – in case of packaging products – residues of the content.

For other plastic items such as organic waste bags and agricultural mulch films, the equivalent standard is BS EN14995.

ISO 17088 - Specifications for Compostable Plastics

ISO 17088:2008 specifies procedures and requirements for the identification and labeling of plastics, and products made from plastics, that are suitable for recovery through aerobic composting. The four following aspects are addressed:

  • Biodegradation
  • Disintegration during composting
  • Negative effects on the composting process and facility, and
  • Negative effects on the quality of the resulting compost, including the presence of high levels of regulated metals and other harmful components

This specification is intended to establish the requirements for the labeling of plastic products and materials, including packaging made from plastics, as “compostable” or “compostable in municipal and industrial composting facilities” or “biodegradable during composting”.

Some of the labels related to biodegradability include:

Biodegradable Certifications

Biodegradability of Several Plastics

Click to find polymer you are looking for:
A-C     |      E-PP     |      PS-X

Polymer Name Value
Bio Polyether Block Amide, PEBA (28-32%renewable carbon) No
Bio PEBA (44-48% renewable carbon) No
Bio PEBA (62-66% renewable carbon) No
Bio PEBA (77-81% renewable carbon) No
Bio PEBA (87-91% renewable carbon) No
Bio PEBA (93-97% renewable carbon) No
Bio-TPU 85 Shore A No
Bio-TPU 90 Shore A No
Bio-TPU 95 Shore A No
CA - Cellulose Acetate No
CAB - Cellulose Acetate Butyrate No
CP - Cellulose Propionate No
PA 10.10-Unreinforced No
PA 11 - (Polyamide 11) 30% Glass fiber reinforced No
PA 11, Conductive No
PA 11, Flexible No
PA 11, glass filled No
PA 11, Rigid No
PC/PLA(25%) blend No
PC/PLA(40%)blend No
PCL - Polycaprolactone Yes
PE/TPS Blend - Polyethylene/Thermoplastic Starch No
PGA - Polyglycolides Yes
PHB - Polyhydroxybutyrate Yes
Poly(hydroxybutyrate - co- valerate) PHB-V(5% valerate) Yes
PLA - Polylactide, Fiber Melt Spinning Yes
PLA, Heat Seal Layer Yes
PLA, High Heat Films Yes
PLA,injection molding Yes
PLA, Spunbond Yes
PLA, Stretch blow molded bottles Yes
TPS/biodegradable copolyester No
TPS/PP BLend - Thermoplastic Starch/ Polypropylene No
TPS, Injection General Purpose Yes
TPS, Injection Water Resistant Yes

Commercially Available Biodegradable Plastic Grades

Disclaimer: all data and information obtained via the Polymer Selector including but not limited to material suitability, material properties, performances, characteristics and cost are given for information purpose only. Although the data and information contained in the Polymer Selector are believed to be accurate and correspond to the best of our knowledge, they are provided without implied warranty of any kind. Data and information contained in the Polymer Selector are intended for guidance in a polymer selection process and should not be considered as binding specifications. The determination of the suitability of this information for any particular use is solely the responsibility of the user. Before working with any material, users should contact material suppliers in order to receive specific, complete and detailed information about the material they are considering. Part of the data and information contained in the Polymer Selector are genericised based on commercial literature provided by polymer suppliers and other parts are coming from assessments of our experts.

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