The impact, behaviour and fate of plastic polymers in the environment is the subject of global concern and debate. Traditional plastics, such as the low density polyethylene used extensively for plastic bags, are non-degradable, and this has led to an accelerated search for viable alternatives.
Biodegradable polymers, such as crop-based hydrodegradable, compostable plastics and oxo-biodegradable plastic, have been developed. Industries are quickly adopting these new biodegradable materials and their use is increasing exponentially, with 2.11 million tonnes manufactured in 2020 alone.
However, little is known about the degradation pathway, from a chemical perspective, or of the fate and impact on the environment of these new materials and their breakdown products. We do not know if these polymers will degrade completely under natural conditions, how quickly this degradation is likely to happen, or what form the carbon and other additives take after degradation.
The fate of biodegradable plastics in the environment is critical, and as yet unknown, as the polymers and their breakdown products may impact on biota, and the carbon may be available to microbial communities, with both having impacts on biogeochemical cycles.
There is an increasing concern that biodegradable polymers may have a similar negative impact on the environment as traditional plastics, for example, through the formation of microparticles due to incomplete degradation and/or the generation of toxic metabolic by-products.
The BioPEP project aims to evaluate the environmental impact of biodegradable plastics via an interdisciplinary approach, where chemists, geographers, microbiologists and ecologists work together to identify new solutions.
The BioPEP team is a multidisciplinary consortium of 6 QMUL academics from four schools (SPCS, SBBS, SEMS and Geograpy) partnered with 7 non-academic teams and 1 European team.
Field of Science
Prof. Marina Resmini
SPCS, Chemistry Department
Dr. J. Iwan Jones
SBBS, Ecology Department
Prof. Kate Spencer
Dr. Pavel Kratina
Dr. Özge Eyice
Molecular Microbial Ecology
SBBS, Microbiology Department
Dr. Emiliano Bilotti
Symphony Environmental Ltd.
Jacobs Douwe Egberts UK
Food Standards Agency
Lloyds Register Foundation
Dr. L. Botto (Univ. of Delft)
Four PhDs students from different faculties were recruited as part of the BioPEP group:
Driven by a keen interest for organic and mineral chemistry, Pauline finished her chemical engineering studies in 2019. During her education, she had the opportunity of travelling abroad and that helped her considerably defining her career path. Besides, Pauline has always been passionate about marine wildlife so that she quickly became preoccupied by the environmental challenges the ocean is facing today. After studying bioplastics at the University of Queensland in Australia then microplastics influx in Greece, her mind was set. She wanted to engage in a long-term research project to address one of the major environmental pollution issues of this century. Generally, the BioPEP team evaluates the suitability of innovative bioplastics in replacing traditional polymers. Her PhD project encompasses the chemical perspective of this consortium by studying the biopolymer chemical degradation and aims to identify the relationship between chemical structure and environmental effect. PhD title: Biodegradable Plastic: understanding the chemistry and its environmental impact.
Nan has three years of research experience on microplastic pollution in the natural environment at Tianjin University, China and Lappeenranta-Lahti University of Technology, Finland. He has investigated microplastic pollution in different regions in China, including Bohai Bay coast, estuaries in Tianjin City and Yangtze River. He has also studied the interaction between the microplastic and natural particles, including biological and non-biological particles to understand the influence of these processes on the fate of microplastics. Nan has found lots of interests in the microplastic world, so he decided to continue his research as a PhD student in the BioPEP team at Queen Mary University of London
Having lived in many countries around the world from a very young age has contributed to Pascaline’s captivation for aquatic ecosystems and the strong desire to help in the preservation of the Earth’s flora and fauna. After completing an MSc in Freshwater and Marine Ecology at Queen Mary University of London, she interned at the National Museum of Natural History in Paris. Throughout those experiences, she became fascinated by the use of genetics in ecology; from sea turtle philopatry, to phenotypic plasticity and cuttlefish olfactory systems. She is now very excited to be able to combine her passions and work in a multidisciplinary team assessing the impact of bioplastics on the environment. Her PhD investigates the interactions between microbial communities and bioplastics in estuarine systems. She is specifically interested in the physicochemical factors influencing the microbial communities’ dynamics and the biogeochemical cycles they drive.
Being surrounded by the incredibly diverse and rich landscapes of Doñana’s National Park from a young age, Ana developed a deep interest in nature that drove her to pursue a career in Biology at Granada’s University. It was during these studies when she succumbed to her love to aquatic systems. Passionate to understand how aquatic ecosystems functioned and regulated and aiming for a prestigious and research-leading institution, she moved to the UK and completed her MSc in Freshwater and Marine Ecology at Queen Mary University of London. Currently, Ana is in the next step of her research career as a member of the interdisciplinary BioPEP team assessing the impact of biodegradable bioplastics in aquatic communities.
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