State of the art and gaps of standard test methods and specifications for biodegradation of plastics in the open environment

, Kuhfuß Hanna, Eich Andreas, Lott Christian, Weber Miriam.

Standardization is used to achieve comparability, by defining details of procedures and test conditions, helping stakeholders such as consumers and regulators. Standards containing comprehensive information are also called ‘specification'. They are used as guidelines and are an explicit set of requirements to be satisfied by a material, product, system or service, as for example for the claim ‘industrial compostable' or ‘soil biodegradable'. Such standards can also be set up as ‘over-arching or comprehensive standards' and are used as a baseline for certification programs. Standard test methods mostly provide detailed directions on performing specific tests, which produces a test result and the basis for accreditation programs. That way, results from different institutions are better comparable and assure a certain quality level. For assessing the biodegradation in the open environment standard test methods and specifications are available at different stages. Most advanced are the tests for seawater, then tests for soil and least advanced are the tests for freshwater. In general, it can be said that there are rather few standard tests available at all. This is due to the fact that they were developed quite specifically and rather for individual applications. For the open environment, the diversity of conditions that are crucial for degradation cannot be ignored. The assessment of biodegradation under different environmental conditions such as soil type, water content, sediment grain sizes, nutrients, oxygen concentration, etc. are not yet included in the available tests. Such data collection would allow to take into account the diversity of the receiving environment, i.e. soils, freshwater and seawater habitats and to indicate the biodegradation rate as a range. In summary, if needed the existing standards should be adapted according to relevant criteria, and if missing be set up for the relevant environmental conditions.

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