Degradation of Degradable Starch-Polyethylene Plastics in a Compost Environment Academic Article uri icon


  • The degradation performance of 11 types of commercially produced degradable starch-polyethylene plastic compost bags was evaluated in municipal yard waste compost sites at Iowa State University (Ames) and in Carroll, Dubuque, and Grinnell, Iowa. Masterbatches for plastic production were provided by Archer Daniels Midland Co. (Decatur, Ill.), St. Lawrence Starch Co. Ltd. (Mississauga, Ontario, Canada), and Fully Compounded Plastics (Decatur, Ill.). Bags differed in starch content (5 to 9%) and prooxidant additives (transition metals and a type of unsaturated vegetable oil). Chemical and photodegradation properties of each material were evaluated. Materials from St. Lawrence Starch Co. Ltd. and Fully Compounded Plastics photodegraded faster than did materials from Archer Daniels Midland Co., whereas all materials containing transition metals demonstrated rapid thermal oxidative degradation in 70 degrees C-oven (dry) and high-temperature, high-humidity (steam chamber) treatments. Each compost site was seeded with test strips (200 to 800 of each type) taped together, which were recovered periodically over an 8- to 12-month period. At each sampling date, the compost row temperature was measured (65 to 95 degrees C), the location of the recovered test strip was recorded (interior or exterior), and at least four strips were recovered for evaluation. Degradation was followed by measuring the change in polyethylene molecular weight distribution via high-temperature gel permeation chromatography. Our initial 8-month study indicated that materials recovered from the interior of the compost row demonstrated very little degradation, whereas materials recovered from the exterior degraded well. In the second-year study, however, degradation was observed in several plastic materials recovered from the interior of the compost row by month 5 at the Carroll site and almost every material by month 12 at the Grinnell site. The plastic bags collected from each community followed a similar degradation pattern. To our knowledge, this is the first scientific study demonstrating significant polyethylene degradation by these materials in a compost environment.

altmetric score

  • 3

author list (cited authors)

  • Johnson, K. E., Pometto, A. L., & Nikolov, Z. L.

citation count

  • 56

complete list of authors

  • Johnson, KE||Pometto, AL||Nikolov, ZL

publication date

  • January 1, 1993 11:11 AM