Microplastic formation from a newly developed biocomposite

, Niu Zhiyue, Catarino Ana I, Davies Peter, Le Gall Maelenn, Curto Marco, Jiang Chulin, Dotcheva Mariana, Vancoillie Gertjan, Dhakal Hom, Vandegehuchte Michiel, Everaert Gert.

Concerns have arisen about the environmental persistence and biological impacts of microplastic (MP) in the global ocean. An important source of MP in the marine environment is the degradation of fossil-based polymers such as polypropylene (PP) and polyethene (PE) induced by the hydromechanical forces and UV radiation. Polymers and composite materials made from a natural-sourced feedstock, like polylactic acid (PLA) and thermoplastic starch (TPS), known as biopolymers and biocomposites, are seen potential alternative with lower environmental impacts. However, to date, few studies have focused on the degradation behavior of biopolymers and biocoposites in the marine environment. As part of the Interreg 2 Seas Mers Zeeën project SeaBioComp (http://seabiocomp.eu/ ), we compared and quantified the MP formation of a newly developed biocomposite and a fossil-based polymer during their degradation under UV radiation. To do so, we exposed self-reinforced PLA and PP specimens in seawater to UV radiation simulating natural exposure for up to 18 months. To identify and characterize MP particles, we applied a combination of fluorescence microscopy, scanning electron microscopy coupled to an element detection system (SEM-EDX), and infrared technology (μFT-IR). Preliminary results indicate the formation of MP due to UV exposure (ongoing analysis). We anticipate that our results will contribute to assessing the risk of biocomposites which can present a more sustainable alternative to fossil-based polymers.

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