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A New Colorimetric Test for Accurate Determination of Plastic Biodegradation

As plastic waste is accumulating in both controlled waste management settings and natural settings, much research is devoted to search for solutions, also in the field of biodegradation. However, determining the biodegradability of plastics in natural environments remains a big challenge due to the often very low biodegradation rates. Many standardised test methods for biodegradation in natural environments exist. These are often based on mineralisation rates in controlled conditions and are thus indirect measurements of biodegradation. It is of interest for both researchers and companies to have tests that are more rapid, easier, and more reliable to screen different ecosystems and/or niches for their plastic biodegradation potential. In this study, the goal is to validate a colorimetric test, based on carbon nanodots, to screen biodegradation of different types of plastics in natural environments. After introducing carbon nanodots into the matrix of the target plastic, a fluorescent signal is released upon plastic biodegradation. The in-house-made carbon nanodots were first confirmed regarding their biocompatibility and chemical and photostability. Subsequently, the effectivity of the developed method was evaluated positively by an enzymatic degradation test with polycaprolactone with Candida antarctica lipase B. Finally, validation experiments were performed with enriched microorganisms and real environmental samples (freshwater and seawater), of which the results were compared with parallel, frequently used biodegradation measures such as O2 and CO2, dissolved organic carbon, growth and pH, to assess the reliability of the test. Our results indicate that this colorimetric test is a good alternative to other methods, but a combination of different methods gives the most information. In conclusion, this colorimetric test is a good fit to screen, in high throughput, the depolymerisation of plastics in natural environments and under different conditions in the lab.

Publication date: 15/05/2023

Author: Valérie Mattelin

Reference: doi: 10.3390/polym15102311

MDPI (polymers)


This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 870292.