Biodegradation of Injection Molded Starch-Poly (3-hydroxybutyrate-co-3-hydroxyvalerate) Blends in a Natural Compost Environment*

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Injection molded specimens were prepared by blending poly (hydroxybutyrate-co-valerate) (PHBV) with cornstarch. Blended formulations incorporated 30% or 50% starch in the presence or absence of poly-(ethylene oxide) (PEO), which enhances the adherence of starch granules to PHBV. These formulations were evaluated for their biodegradability in natural compost by measuring changes in physical and chemical properties over a period of 125 days. The degradation of plastic material, as evidenced by weight loss and deterioration in tensile properties, correlated with the amount of starch present in the blends (neat PHBV < 30% starch < 50% starch). Incorporation of PEO into starch-PHBV blends had little or no effect on the rate of weight loss. Starch in blends degraded faster than PHBV and it accelerated PHBV degradation. Also, PHBV did not retard starch degradation. After 125 days of exposure to compost, neat PHBV lost 7% of its weight (0.056% weight loss/day), while the PHBV component of a 50% starch blend lost 41% of its weight (0.328% weight loss/day). PHB and PHV moieties within the copolymer degraded at similar rates, regardless of the presence of starch, as determined by 1H-NMR spectroscopy. GPC analyses revealed that, while the number average molecular weight (Mn) of PHBV in all exposed samples decreased, there was no significant difference in this decrease between neat PHBV as opposed to PHBV blended with starch. SEM showed homogeneously distributed starch granules embedded in a PHBV matrix, typical of a filler material. Starch granules were rapidly depleted during exposure to compost, increasing the surface area of the PHBV matrix.

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