Deterioration of bioplastic carrier bags in the environment and assessment of a new recycling alternative

Cesare Accinelli, Maria Ludovica Saccà, Mariangela Mencarelli, Alberto Vicari
Chemosphere 2012, 89 (2): 136-43
Increasing environmental concerns and the introduction of technologies based on renewable resources have stimulated the replacement of persistent petroleum-derived plastics with biodegradable plastics from biopolymers. As a consequence, a variety of products are currently manufactured from bioplastic, including carrier bags. This series of studies investigated the deterioration of carrier bags made with Mater-Bi (MB), a starch-based bioplastic, in soil, compost and two aquatic ecosystems, a littoral marsh and seawater. Results from the laboratory study indicated that bioplastic carrier bags were rapidly deteriorated in soil and compost. After three months of incubation, weight loss of specimens was of 37% and 43% in soil and compost, respectively. Conversely, little deterioration was observed in specimens buried in soil under field conditions or exposed to water of a littoral marsh and of the Adriatic Sea. These findings were consistent with the greater number of bacteria and especially fungi capable of degrading MB that were recovered from soil and compost with respect to the two aquatic ecosystems. Considering that a variety of microbial isolates are capable of using MB as a source of carbon, a new alternative to recycle these MB-based carrier bags was explored. More specifically, starchy residues from bags were fermented by the fungus Rhizopus oryzae to produce up to 35 mg of lactic acid per g of bag residues.

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