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Concept: Biodegradable waste management


Society is fundamentally ambivalent to the use of plastics. On the one hand, plastics are uniquely flexible materials that have seen them occupy a huge range of functions, from simple packing materials to complex engineering components. On the other, their durability has raised concerns about their end-of-life disposal. When that disposal route is landfill, their invulnerability to microbial decomposition, combined with relatively low density and high bulk, means that plastics will occupy increasing amounts of landfill space in a world where available suitable landfill sites is shrinking. The search for biodegradable plastics and their introduction to the marketplace would appear to be a suitable amelioration strategy for such a problem. And yet the uptake of biodegradable plastics has been slow. The term biodegradable itself has entered public controversy, with accidental and intended misuse of the term; the intended misuse has led to accusations and instances of “greenwashing”. For this and other reasons standards for biodegradability and compostability testing of plastics have been sought. An environmental dilemma with more far-reaching implications is climate change. The need for rapid and deep greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions cuts is one of the drivers for the resurgence of industrial biotechnology generally, and the search for bio-based plastics more specifically. Bio-based has come to mean plastics based on renewable resources, but this need not necessarily imply biodegradability. If the primary purpose is GHG emissions savings, then once again plastics durability can be a virtue, if the end-of-life solution can be energy recovery during incineration or recycling. The pattern of production is shifting from the true biodegradable plastics to the bio-based plastics, and that trend is likely to persist into the future. This paper looks at aspects of the science of biodegradable and bio-based plastics from the perspective of policy advisers and makers. It is often said that the bioplastics suffer from a lack of a favourable policy regime when compared to the wide-ranging set of policy instruments that are available on both the supply and demand side of biofuels production. Some possible policy measures are discussed.

Concepts: Climate change, Biodegradation, Methane, Greenhouse gas, Bioplastic, Landfill, Biodegradable plastic, Biodegradable waste management


Biodegradation-promoting additives for polymers are increasingly being used around the world with the claim that they effectively render commercial polymers biodegradable. However, there is a lot of uncertainty about their effectiveness in degrading polymers in different environments. In this study, we evaluated the effect of biodegradation-promoting additives on the biodegradation of polyethylene (PE) and polyethylene terephthalate (PET). Biodegradation was evaluated in compost, anaerobic digestion, and soil burial environments. None of the five different additives tested significantly increased biodegradation in any of these environments. Thus, no evidence was found that these additives promote and/or enhance biodegradation of PE or PET polymers. So, anaerobic and aerobic biodegradation are not recommended as feasible disposal routes for non-biodegradable plastics containing any of the five tested biodegradation-promoting additives.

Concepts: Polymer, Plastic, Anaerobic digestion, Waste management, Biodegradation, Thermoplastic, Polyethylene terephthalate, Biodegradable waste management


Brown algae are promising feedstocks for biofuel production with inherent advantages of no structural lignin, high growth rate, and no competition for land and fresh water. However, it is difficult for one microorganism to convert all components of brown algae with different oxidoreduction potentials to ethanol. Defluviitalea phaphyphila Alg1 is the first characterized thermophilic bacterium capable of direct utilization of brown algae.

Concepts: Archaea, Water, Anaerobic digestion, Cellulose, Biofuel, Ethanol fuel, Biodiesel, Biodegradable waste management


To determine the persistence of Clostridium difficile spores in biosolids during composting or when amended into soil and held under natural environmental climatic conditions.

Concepts: Climate, Ecosystem, Clostridium difficile, Environmental engineering, Composting, Septic tank, Biodegradable waste management, In-vessel composting


The concept of materials coming from nature with environmental advantages of being biodegradable and/or biobased (often referred to as bioplastics) is very attractive to the industry and to the consumers. Bioplastics already play an important role in the fields of packaging, agriculture, gastronomy, consumer electronics and automotive, but still they have a very low share in the total production of plastics (currently about 1% of the about 300 million tonnes of plastic produced annually). Biodegradable plastics are often perceived as the possible solution for the waste problem, but biodegradability is just an additional feature of the material to be exploited at the end of its life in specific terms, in the specific disposal environment and in a specific time, which is often forgotten. They should be used as a favoured choice for the applications that demand a cheap way to dispose of the item after it has fulfilled its job (e.g. for food packaging, agriculture or medical products). The mini-review presents the opportunities and future challenges of biodegradable plastics, regarding processing, properties and waste management options.

Concepts: Time, Plastic, Anaerobic digestion, Biodegradation, Bioplastic, Consumer protection, Biodegradable plastic, Biodegradable waste management


Biofuel production from conversion of biomass is indispensable in the portfolio of renewable energies. Complex microbial communities are involved in the anaerobic digestion process of plant material, agricultural residual products and food wastes. Analysis of the genetic potential and microbiology of communities degrading biomass to biofuels is considered to be the key to develop process optimisation strategies. Hence, due to the still incomplete taxonomic and functional characterisation of corresponding communities, new and unknown species are of special interest.

Concepts: Archaea, Anaerobic digestion, Biogas, Biofuel, Energy crop, Biofuels, Thermophile, Biodegradable waste management


Anaerobic digestion of aqueous pyrolysis liquor derived from pyrolysis of solid digestate was tested in batch mode using an un-adapted inoculum. Three pyrolysis liquors produced at 330°C, 430°C and 530°C in four COD-based concentrations of 3, 6, 12 and 30gL(-1) were investigated. The three lower concentrations showed considerable biogas production, whereas the 30gL(-1) dosage caused process inhibition. The highest methane yield of 199.1±18.5mLgCOD(-1) (COD removal: 56.9±5.3%) was observed for the 330°C pyrolysis liquor, followed by the 430°C sample with only slightly lower values. The 530°C sample dropped to a yield of 129.3±19.7mLgCOD(-1) (COD removal: 36.9±5.6%). Most VOCs contained in the pyrolysis liquor (i.e. furfural, phenol, catechol, guaiacol, and levoglucosan) were reduced below detection limit (cresol by 10-60%). Consequently, integrated pyrolysis and anaerobic digestion in addition to thermochemical conversion of digestate also promises bioconversion of pyrolysis liquors.

Concepts: Integral, Anaerobic digestion, Biogas, Phenols, Methane, Biodegradable waste management, Digestate, Bioconversion of biomass to mixed alcohol fuels


To date, the longevity of plastic litter at the sea floor is poorly constrained. The present study compares colonization and biodegradation of plastic bags by aerobic and anaerobic benthic microbes in temperate fine-grained organic-rich marine sediments. Samples of polyethylene and biodegradable plastic carrier bags were incubated in natural oxic and anoxic sediments from Eckernförde Bay (Western Baltic Sea) for 98days. Analyses included (1) microbial colonization rates on the bags, (2) examination of the surface structure, wettability, and chemistry, and (3) mass loss of the samples during incubation. On average, biodegradable plastic bags were colonized five times higher by aerobic and eight times higher by anaerobic microbes than polyethylene bags. Both types of bags showed no sign of biodegradation during this study. Therefore, marine sediment in temperate coastal zones may represent a long-term sink for plastic litter and also supposedly compostable material.

Concepts: Sediment, Oceanography, Biodegradation, Polyethylene, Bioplastic, Biodegradable plastic, Biodegradable waste management, Plastic shopping bag


Energy from remote methane reserves is transformative; however, unintended release of this potent greenhouse gas makes it imperative to convert methane efficiently into more readily transported biofuels. No pure microbial culture that grows on methane anaerobically has been isolated, despite that methane capture through anaerobic processes is more efficient than aerobic ones.

Concepts: Anaerobic digestion, Biogas, Natural gas, Biofuel, Methane, Energy crop, Biofuels, Biodegradable waste management


The feasibility of using spent coffee ground (SCG) as a new bulking agent for biodrying of dewatered sludge (DS) was investigated in comparison with two other frequently-used bulking agents, air-dried sludge (AS) and sawdust (SD). Results showed that the moisture contents (MC) of 16-day DS biodrying with AS (Trial A), SCG (Trial B) and SD (Trial C) decreased from 70.14 wt%, 68.25 wt% and 71.63 wt% to 59.12 wt%, 41.35 wt% and 57.69 wt%, respectively. In case of Trial B, the MC rapidly decreased to 46.16 wt% with the highest water removal (70.87%) within 8 days because of the longest high-temperature period (5.8 days). Further studies indicated that the abundant biodegradable volatile solids (BVS) and high dissolved organic matter (DOM) contents in SCG were the main driving forces for water removal. According to pyrosequencing data, Firmicutes, most of which were recognized as thermophiles, was rapidly enriched on Day 8 and became the dominant phylum in Trial B. Four thermophilic genera, Bacillus, Ureibacillus, Geobacillus and Thermobifida, which can produce thermostable hydrolytic extracellular enzymes, were the most abundant in Trial B, indicating that these thermophilic bacteria evolved during the long high-temperature period enhanced the biodegradation of BVS in SCG. The 8-day biodried product of Trial B was demonstrated to be an excellent solid fuel with low heating value (LHV) of 9284 kJ kg-1, which was 2.1 and 1.8 times those of biodried products with AS and SD, respectively. Thus SCG was found to be an excellent bulking agent accelerating DS biodrying and producing a solid fuel with a high calorific value.

Concepts: Bacteria, Anaerobic digestion, Biodegradation, Extremophile, Thermophile, Lower heating value, Hyperthermophile, Biodegradable waste management