biodegradable polymers (rus. полимеры, биоразлагаемые otherwise биодеградируемые полимеры; материалы с регулируемым сроком эксплуатации) — polymeric materials which spontaneously break down in the result of natural microbiologic and chemical processes.


Synthetic biodegradable polymers are of primary importance in two spheres of human activity: medicine and environmental protection.

Most polymers used in the production of plastic packaging are bioinert (polyethylene, polypropylene, polyethylene terephthalate, polystyrene, etc.) and do not decompose under natural conditions for a long time. This requires certain measures to be taken to arrange their disposal, or, where possible, recycling. Both processes are energy and labor-intensive and do not entirely prevent pollution of the environment.

In recent years, there has been a lot of research and efforts to create biodegradable polymers (rapidly degraded by environmental factors, including, microorganisms) with performance similar to conventional polymeric materials for packaging. In some foreign countries (Japan, USA, some EU countries, etc.), a considerable part of packaging materials is already made from biodegradable materials. One should note: biodegradable materials such as Biopol product by ICI, UK, based on copolymers of polyhydroxybutyrate and polyhydroxyvalerate; Novon by Wamer-Lampert&Co, USA, based on hydroxycarboxylic acid and lactide; Biocell, France, based on cellulose acetate with various additives and plasticizers; Mater-Bi by Novomot, Italy, based on polyamide-6 (6.6) with the addition of natural and synthetic biodegradable oligomers. In the U.S., widely spread is TONE open air biodegradable packaging based on caprolactam.

One promising direction in this area is the use of nanocomposites based on biodegradable polymers and organo-modified layered silicates (specially processed natural clay), which have improved mechanical and thermal properties and can also decompose at a faster rate due to the lower degree of crystallinity of the polymer and intercalation of initiators of polymer degradation into interlayer space of the clay.

In the process of biodegradation, the macromolecules first split into fragments with a lower molecular weight, the oligomers, which are then processed by bacteria. The final products of decay are carbon dioxide and water.

Biodegradable polymers used in medicine, when coming in contact with the body fluids of a living organism, can dissolve without changing their molecular weight or undergo biodegradation by the following mechanisms: hydrolysis resulting in oligomeric and monomeric products, enzymatic hydrolysis and phagocytic destruction (a protective cellular response of the body). In practice, the rate of biodegradation is conditioned by cumulative effects of these factors. A biodegradable polymer widely used in medicine is, for example, surgery suture based on water-soluble polymers. Biodegradable polymers have promising prospects to be used as implants, which may gradually be replaced in the body by bone, cartilage or other living tissue. Some of the first biomaterials to have been used in tissue engineering were biodegradable synthetic polymers from organic acids, such as lactic acid (PLA, polylactate) and glycolic acid (PGA, polyglycolide). Organic acid matrices became the basis for engineering such organs and tissues as skin, bone, cartilage, tendon, muscle (striated, smooth and cardiac), small intestine, etc. Collagen, chitosan and alginate have a special place among biomatrix materials. Collagen (protein fraction of animal tissues) has virtually no antigenic properties. Alginate is a polysaccharide from marine algae. Chitosan is a nitrogen-containing polysaccharide derived from the chitin shells of crustaceans and mollusks. A combined composition drug, collagen-chitosan complex, is permitted by the Ministry of Health of the Russian Federation as a wound dressing and wound healing remedy, and is already used in clinical practice in surgery and dentistry. Biodegradable polymers can be used as drug carriers in controlled drug delivery systems.


  • Govorun Elena N.
  • Mitkevich Olga V.


  1. Biodegradable polymeric materials (in Russian)//, 1999–2009. — (reference date: 9.10.2009).
  2. Biodegradable polymers in the spotlight (in Russian)//, 2006. —Биоразлагаемые_полимеры_в_центре_внимания (reference date: 9.10.2009).
  3. Synthetic biodegradable polymer // Wikipedia, the free Encyclopedia. — (reference date: 9.10.2009).
  4. Volova T.G., Sevastyanov V.I., Shishatskaya E.I.Polioksialkanoaty - biodegradable polymers for medicine. 2nd ed. (in Russian)— Krasnojarsk: "Platina". 2006. — 287 pp.