Effect of environmental parameters on the degradability of polymer films in laboratory-scale composting reactors

Ji Dong Gu, Shunjuan Yang, R. Welton, D. Eberiel, S. P. McCarthy, R. A. Gross*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

46 Scopus citations


Previous research in our laboratory reported a convenient laboratory-scale composting test method to study the weight loss of polymer films in aerobic thermophilic (53°C) reactors maintained at a 60% moisture content. The laboratory-scale compost reactors contained the following synthetic compost mixture (percentage on dry-weight basis): tree leaves (45.0), shredded paper (16.5), food (6.7), meat (5.8), cow manure (17.5), sawdust (1.9), aluminum and steel shavings (2.4), glass beads (1.3), urea (1.9), and a compost seed (1.0) which is designated Mix-1 in this work. To simplify the laboratory-scale compost weight loss test method and better understand how compost mixture compositions and environmental parameters affect the rate of plastic degradation, a systematic variation of the synthetic mixture composition as well as the moisture content was carried out. Cellulose acetate (CA) with a degree of substitution (DS) value of 1.7 and cellophane films were chosen as test polymer substrates for this work. The extent of CA DS-1.7 and cellophane weight loss as a function of the exposure time remained unchanged when the metal and glass components of the mixture were excluded in Mix-2. Further study showed that large variations in the mixture composition such as the replacement of tree leaves, food, meat, and sawdust with steam-exploded wood and alfalfa (forming Mix-C) could be made with little or no change in the time dependence of CA DS-1.7 film weight loss. In contrast, substituting tree leaves, food, meat, cow manure, and sawdust with steam-exploded wood in combination with either Rabbit Choice (Mix-D) or starch and urea (Mix-E) resulted in a significant time increase (from 7 to 12 days) for the complete disappearance of CA DS-1.7 films. Interestingly, in this work no direct correlation was observed between the C/N ratio (which ranged from 13.9 to 61.4) and the CA DS-1.7 film weight loss. Decreasing moisture contents of the compost Mix-2 from 60 and 50 and 40% resulted in dramatic changes in polymer degradation such that CA DS-1.7 showed an increase in the time period for a complete disappearance of polymer films from 6 to 16 and 30 days, respectively.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)129-135
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Environmental Polymer Degradation
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 1994
Externally publishedYes


  • Cellulose acetate
  • biodegradable polymers
  • biodegradation testing
  • compost simulation
  • moisture content
  • municipal solid waste
  • plastic film weight loss
  • polymer biodegradation
  • polymer degradation
  • synthetic compost mixes


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