The influence of soil macroinvertebrates on primary biodegradation of starch-containing polyethylene films

Rong Tsao, Todd A. Anderson, Joel R. Coats

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20 Scopus citations


The primary biodegradability of polyethylene (PE) films containing different percentages of cornstarch (0-50%) and other additives (prooxidant, oxidized polyethylene) was tested using four species of earthworms (Eisenia fetida, Lumbricus terrestris, Aporectodea trapezoides, Aporectodea tuberculata), three species of cockroaches (Periplaneta americana, Blaberus sp., Blattella germanica), termites (Reticulotermes flavipes), sowbugs (Porcellio laevis), and crickets (Acheta domesticus). These studies were conducted to elucidate the potential role of soil macroinvertebrates in degrading starch/PE biodegradable plastics. The results of the macroinvertebrate bioassays indicate that crickets, cockroaches, and sowbugs consumed starch-containing PE films most readily. In addition, the degree to which the films were attacked and consumed was directly related to the starch content of the film. Films with oxidized polyethylene and those containing prooxidant (vegetable oil and a transition metal catalyst) were also consumed. None of the four species of earthworms tested or the termites showed any activity toward the starch/polyethylene films. These results have important implications for determining the fate of novel plastic formulations which claim to be biodegradable in natural environments. Studies such as these, coupled with studies on microbial degradation, will help provide the type of information needed to assess the environmental fate of biodegradable starch/PE plastics and fill the voids in the scientific database regarding this rapidly developing field.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)301-306
Number of pages6
JournalJournal of Environmental Polymer Degradation
Issue number4
StatePublished - Oct 1993


  • Biodegradable plastics
  • macroinvertebrates
  • starch-containing polyethylene films


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