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Chemosphere. 2008 Sep;73(4):429-42. doi: 10.1016/j.chemosphere.2008.06.064. Epub 2008 Aug 23.

Polymer biodegradation: mechanisms and estimation techniques.

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Laboratoire des Technologies Innovantes (EA 3899), Université de Picardie Jules Verne, Avenue des Facultés, 80025 Amiens Cedex 1, France.


Within the frame of the sustainable development, new materials are being conceived in order to increase their biodegradability properties. Biodegradation is considered to take place throughout three stages: biodeterioration, biofragmentation and assimilation, without neglect the participation of abiotic factors. However, most of the techniques used by researchers in this area are inadequate to provide evidence of the final stage: assimilation. In this review, we describe the different stages of biodegradation and we state several techniques used by some authors working in this domain. Validate assimilation (including mineralisation) is an important aspect to guarantee the real biodegradability of items of consumption (in particular friendly environmental new materials). The aim of this review is to emphasise the importance of measure as well as possible, the last stage of the biodegradation, in order to certify the integration of new materials into the biogeochemical cycles. Finally, we give a perspective to use the natural labelling of stable isotopes in the environment, by means of a new methodology based on the isotopic fractionation to validate assimilation by microorganisms.

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