Decomposition of bio-degradable plastic polymer in a real on-farm composting process

Research paper by Riccardo Spaccini, Daniele Todisco, Marios Drosos, Antonio Nebbioso, Alessandro Piccolo

Indexed on: 14 Mar '16Published on: 12 Mar '16Published in: Chemical and Biological Technologies in Agriculture


The current wide diffusion of bio-degradable plastic made up by starch-based polymeric composite has focused the attention on the allocation of bio-polymers for the direct recycling in composting processes. Actually, the acknowledged current methods to estimate the bio-degradability are mainly based on laboratory tests and measurements under controlled conditions, while scarce information are available on the effective transformation of bio-film derivatives in real composting facilities. The aim of this paper was to determine at molecular level the decomposition of specific starch-based thermoplastic mulching film for horticultural crops, in a real on-farm composting system for the attainment of mature compost for agricultural application.The initial and final molecular composition of both bulk biomasses and bio-plastic composite were evaluated through 13C solid-state CPMAS-NMR spectroscopy and off-line thermochemolysis—gas chromatography–mass spectrometry. The effective decomposition of the bio-polymer was shown by mono-dimensional and pseudo-2D NMR experiments that revealed the alteration of the intermolecular linkages among the monomeric constituents, while the thermochemolysis confirmed the complete decomposition of starch components. Concomitantly, the molecular characterization of bulk compost indicated the typical selective preservation of hydrophobic components currently found in aerobic composting processes, with a significant increase (+50 %) for the yields of aromatic lignin derivatives and recalcitrant aliphatic compounds.In addition to the classical testing methodologies, the detailed analytical investigation represents a powerful methodology to elucidate the molecular composition and modification of plastic bio-polymers thereby providing a valuable contribution to further promote the composting process as viable way to recycle the biodegradable polymeric materials.Molecular assessment of bio-polymer decomposition during the on-farm composting process