Analysis of volatile organic compounds produced during incineration of non-degradable and biodegradable plastics

Min Jang, Hyemin Yang, Seul A. Park, Hye Kyeong Sung, Jun Mo Koo, Sung Yeon Hwang, Hyeonyeol Jeon, Dongyeop X. Oh, Jeyoung Park

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)


As plastic consumption has increased, environmental problems associated with the accumulation of plastic wastes have started to emerge. These include the non-degradability of plastic and its disintegration into sub-micron particles. Although some biodegradable plastic products have been developed to relieve the landfill and leakage burden, a significant portion of discarded plastics are inevitably still incinerated. The concern here is that incinerating plastics may result in the emission of toxic volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Moreover, lack of policy and the limited market share contributes to the indiscriminate discarding of biodegradable plastics, whereby it is mixed and subsequently incinerated with non-degradable plastics. The aim of this study was therefore to qualitatively and quantitatively analyze the VOCs emitted from both non-degradable and biodegradable plastics during combustion employing gas chromatography mass spectrometry. Here, non-degradable poly(vinyl chloride) and poly(ethylene terephthalate) emitted 10–115 and 6–22 ppmv of VOCs, respectively. These emission levels were more than 100 times higher than the VOC concentrations of 0.1–0.5 and 0.1–1.8 ppmv obtained for biodegradable polyhydroxyalkanoate and polylactic acid, respectively. Notably, due to the presence of a repeating butylene group in both non-degradable and biodegradable plastics, 1,3-butadiene accounted for the highest concentration among the VOCs identified, with concentrations of 6–116 ppmv and 0.5–558 ppmv obtained, respectively. During the evaluation of gas barrier films employed for food packaging purposes, non-degradable aluminum-coated multilayered films emitted 9–515 ppmv of VOCs, compared to the 2–41 ppmv VOCs emitted by biodegradable nanocellulose/nanochitin-coated films. Despite the significantly lower levels of VOCs emitted during the incineration of biodegradable plastics, this does not represent suitable waste treatment solution because VOCs are still emitted during incomplete combustion. This study aims to encourage further research into diverse combustion conditions for plastics and stimulate discussions on the fate of discarded plastics.

Original languageEnglish
Article number134946
Publication statusPublished - Sep 2022


  • Biodegradable plastic
  • Fate of plastic
  • Gas chromatography mass spectrometry
  • Incineration
  • Non-degradable plastic
  • Volatile organic compounds


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