Journal of Polymers and the Environment

, Volume 15, Issue 2, pp 125–150 | Cite as

Biodegradation of Agricultural Plastic Films: A Critical Review

Original Paper

Abstract

The growing use of plastics in agriculture has enabled farmers to increase their crop production. One major drawback of most polymers used in agriculture is the problem with their disposal, following their useful life-time. Non-degradable polymers, being resistive to degradation (depending on the polymer, additives, conditions etc) tend to accumulate as plastic waste, creating a serious problem of plastic waste management. In cases such plastic waste ends-up in landfills or it is buried in soil, questions are raised about their possible effects on the environment, whether they biodegrade at all, and if they do, what is the rate of (bio?)degradation and what effect the products of (bio?)degradation have on the environment, including the effects of the additives used. Possible degradation of agricultural plastic waste should not result in contamination of the soil and pollution of the environment (including aesthetic pollution or problems with the agricultural products safety). Ideally, a degradable polymer should be fully biodegradable leaving no harmful substances in the environment. Most experts and acceptable standards define a fully biodegradable polymer as a polymer that is completely converted by microorganisms to carbon dioxide, water, mineral and biomass, with no negative environmental impact or ecotoxicity. However, part of the ongoing debate concerns the question of what is an acceptable period of time for the biodegradation to occur and how this is measured. Many polymers that are claimed to be ‘biodegradable’ are in fact ‘bioerodable’, ‘hydrobiodegradable’, ‘photodegradable’, controlled degradable or just partially biodegradable. This review paper attempts to delineate the definition of degradability of polymers used in agriculture. Emphasis is placed on the controversial issues regarding biodegradability of some of these polymers.

Keywords

Degradation Biodegradation Mulching films Agriculture Polymers 

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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Agricultural EngineeringAgricultural University of AthensAthensGreece

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