Environmental Issue: Underwater image of Plastic in the Ocean. The location here is Phi Phi Islands, Krabi, Thailand.

Is Biodegradability a Solution to Plastics Waste Management? – Understanding the Science

Presented by Ramani Narayan (Michigan State University)

A University of Plymouth MAterials and STructures (MAST) research group seminar

Wednesday 04 November 2020 at 14:00-15:30 GMT

Watch the recording of the seminar (80 minutes)

Plastic wastes on land and in oceans have become major societal issues. Articles in print, television, and social media continue to report on plastics pollution especially as it relates to findings of microplastics and fibres in the oceans. Designing thermoplastic polymers to be completely “biodegradable” in disposal systems like composting and soil (agriculture) in a specific time and rate can be a viable and responsible “end-of-life” solution, and contribute to circularity and sustainability. However, much confusion, misperception, and outright misleading claims abound in the marketplace about biodegradability and biodegradable plastics.

In this seminar, we review the science of biodegradation and discuss the value proposition for biodegradable and compostable plastics. The concept of polymer materials that degrade and disappear without leaving behind fragments or harmful products is appealing, and literature caries countless papers on the subject. However, many of the products and reports do not demonstrate complete removal from the selected disposal environment by microbial metabolism in a defined rate and time. This @EnvSciTech viewpoint summarises necessary requirements for assessing and reporting plastic biodegradation as solution for plastic waste https://pubs.acs.org/doi/10.1021/acs.est.9b04513. The relationship between polymer structure and the receiving biological environment to biodegradability will be discussed.

Bio-based plastics in which fossil carbon of the polymer molecule is replaced in part or completely by renewable bio carbon offers the value proposition of a reduced carbon footprint, enhanced rural agrarian economies, and food security. However, a bio-based product is not necessarily biodegradable or compostable.

Contact Professor John Summerscales for any queries.


Biography: Dr Ramani Narayan

Dr Ramani Narayan is University Distinguished Professor at Michigan State University in the Department of Chemical Engineering and Materials Science. 

He has 200+ refereed publications in leading journals, 32 issued patents, and edited three books in the area of environmentally responsible biobased materials [h-index 50; i10-index 143, 12,248 citations Google Scholar]. He has graduated 22 PhD and 23 masters students at MSU.

Dr Ramani Narayan

He is a Fellow of US National Academy of Inventors and Fellow of ASTM International. Among many honours and award are ASTM award of merit, the highest society award; DuPont’s Packaging Award for Excellence in Innovation and Sustainability with the Coca Cola Plant bottle team; Michigan Green Chemistry Governor’s Award and State of Michigan Governor’s University Award for Commercialization Excellence; Fulbright Distinguished Lectureship Chair in Science and Technology Management and Commercialization; MSU Withrow Distinguished Scholar (Engineering) and University Distinguished Faculty award.

He is the founding Chair of the committee on Environmentally Degradable Plastics and Biobased Products (D20.96). As Chair, he worked to develop Specification Standards for biobased and biodegradable-compostable plastics like D6400, D6868, D68666. He also serves as USA technical expert to ISO (International Standards Organization) TC 61 on Plastics, and specifically on SC 14 subcommittee on "Environmental Aspects", including convener of WG 3 on BioBased Plastics. He is scientific advisor to the Biodegradable Products Institute (BPI), USDA BioPreferred Program; European certification organisations, and other NGOs.

Professor Narayan conducted Polylactide (Ingeotm) technology development and engineering scale-up studies for NatureWorks – 150 kton production facility for PLA, the world’s foremost 100% biobased and biodegradable-compostable polymer material. He developed advanced PLA-biopolyester hybrid resin materials for biobased and biodegradable films under National Science Foundation STTR Phase I &II award with Natur-Tec/Northern Technologies International (NASDAQ: NTIC); Founding member of EcoSynthetix Inc.; which is developing environmentally responsive biobased materials, and trading on the Canadian Stock Exchange (TSE:ECO). He developed Biofoam sheet technology for cushion packaging and insulation material marketed under the trade name GreenCell Foam by KTM Industries.