UV Light Degradation of Polylactic Acid Kickstarts Enzymatic Hydrolysis

Margaret H. Brown, Thomas D. Badzinski, Elizabeth Pardoe, Molly Ehlebracht, Melissa A. Maurer-Jones

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Polylactic acid (PLA) and bioplastics alike have a designed degradability to avoid the environmental buildup that petroplastics have created. Yet, this designed biotic-degradation has typically been characterized in ideal conditions. This study seeks to relate the abiotic to the biotic degradation of PLA to accurately represent the degradation pathways bioplastics will encounter, supposing their improper disposal in the environment. Enzymatic hydrolysis was used to study the biodegradation of PLA with varying stages of photoaging. Utilizing a fluorescent tag to follow enzyme hydrolysis, it was determined that increasing the amount of irradiation yielded greater amounts of total enzymatic hydrolysis by proteinase K after 8 h of enzyme incubation. While photoaging of the polymers causes minimal changes in chemistry and increasing amounts of crystallinity, the trends in biotic degradation appear to primarily be driven by photoinduced reduction in molecular weight. The relationship between photoaging and enzyme hydrolysis appears to be independent of enzyme type, though commercial product degradation may be impacted by the presence of additives. Overall, this work reveals the importance of characterizing biodegradation with relevant samples that ultimately can inform optimization of production and disposal.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)92-98
Number of pages7
JournalACS Materials Au
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 10 2024

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2023 The Authors. Published by American Chemical Society.


  • UV light
  • abiotic degradation
  • biodegradability
  • enzymatic hydrolysis
  • polylactic acid


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