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Phases of Biodegradation
The process of biodegradation happens naturally over time.
Depending on the material, the timeline to complete full degradation can vary. With plastics, this process usually takes hundreds to thousands of years to complete, if ever, because of the strong polymers that makes up its chemical structure.
However, with Bio-Tec Environmental, LLC’s organic plastic additive, EcoPure®, the process is significantly accelerated. EcoPure® plastics complete the biodegradation* process at much higher rates, which includes:
- Aerobic Phase – In this phase, the enzymes and decomposition chemicals act as a catalyst to the biofilm coating the plastic. During this time, aerobic microbes are becoming established and moisture is building up in the refuse. Standard plastic moisture absorption capability is relatively small, but the additive causes further swelling, weakening the polymer bonds. This creates molecular spaces for microbial growth, which begins the aerobic degradation process in which oxygen is converted to CO2.
- Anaerobic, Non-Methanogenic Phase – After oxygen concentrations have declined sufficiently, the anaerobic processes begin. During the initial stage (hydrolysis), the microbe colonies eat the particulates, and through an enzymatic process, reduce large polymers into simpler monomers. The organic additive causes additional swelling and opening of the polymer chain and increased quorum sensing. This further excites the microbes to increase their colonization and consumption of the polymer chain. As time progresses, acidogenesis occurs where the simple monomers are converted into fatty acids. CO2 production occurs rapidly at this stage.
- Anaerobic, Methanogenic Unsteady Phase – The microbe colonies continue to grow, eating away at the polymer chain and creating increasingly larger molecular spaces. During this phase acetogenesis occurs, converting fatty acids into acetic acid, carbon dioxide and hydrogen. As this process continues, CO2 rates decline and hydrogen production eventually ceases.
- Anaerobic, Methanogenic Steady Phase – The final stage of decomposition involves methanogensis. As colonies of microbes continue to eat away at the remaining surface of the polymer, acetates are converted into methane and carbon dioxide, and hydrogen is consumed. The process continues until the remaining element is humus. This highly nutritional soil creates and improved environment for the microbes and enhances the final stage of decomposition.
* Biodegradation rates of EcoPure-treated plastic materials measured according to the ASTM D5511 test method. Tests are generally conducted using 20% to 30% solids content; solids content in naturally wetter landfills range from 55% to 65%, while the driest landfills may reach 93%. Actual biodegradation rates will vary in biologically-active landfills according to the type of plastic used, the product configuration, and the solid content, temperature and moisture levels of the landfill.