Evaluation of bioplastics biodegradation under simulated landfill conditions
Bioplastics that are generated from renewable sources have been regarded as an alternative to conventional plastics. Polylactic acid (PLA) is one of the mostly produced bioplastics because of its long shelf life for various applications. Even though bioplastics have drawn attention recently, their ultimate fate in landfills is still unknown. In this study, a standardized laboratory-scale lysimeter experiment was performed for the simulation of landfill conditions in order to evaluate the biodegradability of PLA during municipal solid waste stabilization. The reactors were loaded with municipal solid waste (MSW) taken from an operating landfill, certified PLA cups, and seed sludge. Various phases of landfill stabilization were simulated; hence, the reactors were operated under aerobic, semi-aerobic, and anaerobic conditions, respectively. Throughout the operation, both leachate and biogas generation in the reactors were regularly monitored. At the end of each phase, bioplastic cups were removed from the reactors, gently cleaned, weighed, and examined under a scanning electron microscope (SEM). The experimental results indicated that bioplastics did not undergo significant biodegradation during the first two stabilization phases (aerobic and semi-aerobic). On the other hand, it was observed that the cups were much softer and whiter at the end of the anaerobic phase. The weight of cups decreased by 12.8% on average, and their surfaces were prominently damaged after the completion of the last phase indicating the potential signs of biodegradation.