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Critical Review of Norms and Standards for Biodegradable Agricultural Plastics Part Ι. Biodegradation in Soil


A critical review of norms and standards and corresponding tests to determine the biodegradability in soil for biodegradable plastics, possibly applicable also to biodegradable agricultural plastics, is presented. There are only a few norms available at the international level about biodegradable plastics in soil. The criteria, parameters and testing methodologies for the characterization, labelling and validation of the agricultural plastic waste streams with respect to possible biodegradation in soil according to existing international standards are analysed while the relevant controversies are identified. To derive the best suited for agricultural plastics specs and testing methods, the possible developments or adaptation of available specs, is investigated. Considering the existing types of biodegradable plastic products in agriculture and their effective life management at the agricultural field, only a few norms appear to provide suitable tests that could be adapted, following appropriate research work, for testing biodegradability in soil under real field conditions. It is shown that some major revisions are needed, with the support of systematic research work, before a new universal norm and standard testing methods become available for testing agricultural plastics for biodegradation under real, and highly variable, soil conditions. Based on the analysis of the different norms and their content it appears necessary to incorporate provisions for transferability of results to different soils and climates, validation of tests through a positive reference and also, set prerequisites for soil media. Long term biodegradation in soil prediction is another open issue.

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  1. Biodegradation or biotic degradation is chemical degradation of materials (e.g. polymers) brought about by the action of naturally occurring microorganisms such as bacteria, fungi and algae (chemical degradation that does not involve biological activity is defined as abiotic degradation). As biodegradation proceeds it produces carbon dioxide and/or methane and water. If oxygen is present the biotic degradation that occurs is aerobic degradation and carbon dioxide is produced. If there is no oxygen available, the biotic degradation is anaerobic degradation, and methane is produced instead of carbon dioxide. Under some circumstances both gases are produced.


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The present work has been supported by the European ‘Labelling agricultural plastic waste for valorising the waste stream’, Collective research, LABELAGRIWASTE, Contract no. 516256-2. Special thanks are due to Novamont S.p.A. staff for the technical support offered on the management in soil media with respect to air flow diffusion and moisture content regulation.

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Correspondence to Demetres Briassoulis.

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Briassoulis, D., Dejean, C. Critical Review of Norms and Standards for Biodegradable Agricultural Plastics Part Ι. Biodegradation in Soil. J Polym Environ 18, 384–400 (2010).

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  • Biodegradable agricultural plastics
  • Biodegradability in soil
  • Testing methods
  • Norms
  • Labelling