Pauline de Bigault de Cazanove
Project title: Biodegradable Plastic: Understanding the chemistry and its environmental impact
Summary: Plastic products have revolutionised the Human society, their use increasing twenty-fold since the beginning of their massive manufacture in 1950. Conventional polymers are a complex blend of petrochemical substances and additives that bestow properties of interest to the materials thereby warranting plastic’s utility, ubiquity, and durability for a broad range of applications. However, today, plastics have infiltrated global terrestrial and marine environments where they persist for years to decades so that serious concerns are raising about their short and long-term adverse effects on animal and human health, and ecosystems biodiversity. Thus, research is seeking for the development of new materials derived from renewable resources that can be involved into a closed-loop recycling model in line with the conception of an environmentally safe and sustainable industrial development. The main challenge of these investigations resides in understanding the key-factors that ultimately control the entire biodegradation over which polymers disintegrated and lose their inherent properties when exposed to different medium. Despite the establishment of biodegradability standards, reliability of the methods is often questioned by important knowledge gaps with regards to idealised simulating conditions. Significant innovations on bioplastics research demonstrate great potential but to date efforts remain too fragmented and uncoordinated across the value chain to have a significant impact at industrial scale. This project aims to understand the degradation timeframe of rising biodegradable polymers in performing lab-scale experiments to monitor the conditions of effective biodegradation. The objective is to address the current gap in knowledge by undertaking a comparative study between biobased and biodegradable plastics and conventional plastics degradability. Results aspire to play a key-role in a long-term program research to develop efficient bioplastics in replacing petroleum-based products.