NC State
Zambrano, M. C., Pawlak, J. J., and Venditti, R. A. (2020). "Effects of chemical and morphological structure on biodegradability of fibers, fabrics, and other polymeric materials," BioRes. 15(4), Page numbers to be added.


The biodegradability of polymers depends on several factors. However, the most critical aspects are the accessibility of the structure for moisture and enzyme diffusion and the capacity of the microbes in the environment to assimilate the final monomers. The accessibility of the polymer structure to enzymes and water depends primarily on crystallinity, hydrophobicity, and the steric effects of the side groups in the polymer backbone. In general, biologically synthesized polymers are readily biodegradable in natural environments but synthetic polymers are either less biodegradable or degrade very slowly. However, such generalizations should be avoided. To understand the compatibility of biomaterials and the environment, both the disintegration step of the biodegradation process and the assimilation and mineralization of these fragments by microorganisms must be investigated. Mineralization occurs when the oligomers and monomers assimilated within the cells are converted to CO2 and H2O (aerobic), and CO2, CH4, and H2O (anaerobic). Although the disintegration of the polymeric structure limits the biodegradation rate and is most easily detected, the final pieces may accumulate in the environment if they are not fully mineralized. Such accumulation could contribute to an issue with microplastics that may be much more difficult to address than the removal of macroscopic, large polymer-based debris.

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