Potential effects of biodegradable single-use items in the sea: Polylactic acid (PLA) and solitary ascidians

Guillermo Anderson, Noa Shenkar

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


With conventional plastics posing a great threat to marine organisms, and potentially also to humans, bio-based, biodegradable plastics are being offered as an ecological solution by which to reduce the environmental impact. Inside compost facilities, bioplastics that comply with the EN 13432:2000 international standard biodegrade almost completely within 180 days. However, outside compost facilities, and specifically in marine environments, these bioplastics may have a similar effect to that of fossil-fuel based plastics. Here we investigated the effects of polyethylene terephthalate (PET) and polylactic acid (PLA) single-use cups and plates on a solitary ascidian's biological and ecological features. Both PET and PLA microparticles reduced the fertilization rate of Microcosmus exasperatus, with no significant difference between materials. Accumulation rates in adult M. exasperatus exposed to micronized PET and PLA particles at two concentrations were similar for both the bioplastic material and the conventional plastic particles, with no significant difference between the two materials. A microbial-based digestive protocol was developed in order to recover the bioplastic material from ascidian tissue and reduce any material-loss caused by the known digestion protocols. Finally, PET plates submerged for three months in the Red Sea exhibited a significantly higher community richness and cover area in comparison to PLA plates, which did not provide a firm substrate for settlers. Indeed, coverage by the solitary ascidian Herdmania momus was significantly higher on PET plates. The current study demonstrates that discarded bioplastic products may have similar effects to those of conventional plastics on marine organism fertilization and biological accumulation, emphasizing the need to revise both the production and marketing of “biodegradable” and “compostable” plastics in order to prevent a further negative impact on ecosystems due to the mismanagement of bioplastic products.

Original languageEnglish
Article number115364
JournalEnvironmental Pollution
StatePublished - 1 Jan 2021


  • Bioaccumulation
  • Bioplastics
  • Ecotoxicology
  • Marine pollution
  • Microplastics
  • Tunicates


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