Is epoxy resin biodegradable? (7 qualities of epoxy resin) 

In this article, it shall be explored whether epoxy resin is biodegradable or not. Several other topics related to epoxy resin and its biodegradability shall also be discussed including:

  • What is epoxy resin?
  • What are the applications of epoxy resin?
  • What is biodegradability?
  • What does epoxy resin need to be biodegradable?
  • Is epoxy resin harmful to human health?
  • Is epoxy resin harmful to the environment?
  •  Which resins are eco-friendly?
  • FAQs 

Is epoxy resin biodegradable? 

Yes, epoxy resin is biodegradable. The microbes responsible for the degradation of epoxy resin are Rhodococcus rhodochrous and Ochrobactrum anthropi. 

Epoxy resin, once polymerised, is also environmentally friendly causing no harm or no pollution. Epoxy resin is also recyclable. 

However, epoxy resin is linked to numerous health risks such as allergies, lung dysfunctions, dermatitis, genetic mutation and also cancer (in some cases). 

What is epoxy resin?

Epoxy resin is a type of resin that contains epoxide groups and is linked to qualities of adhesion, chemical resistance and mechanical properties making these resins versatile in their usage and applications. 

Resins may be natural or synthetic organic compounds that usually consist of a non-crystalline or viscous liquid material. 

Simply put, resins (in general) are obtained from plant sources such as trees for their use in medicine or varnishes. 

However, resins are also manufactured products that exhibit similar properties and can be used as plastics. 

Resins have many applications and various classes. Epoxy resin belongs to the group of thermosetting resin, otherwise known as thermoset which is a polymer. 

This polymer forms covalent bonds in a crosslinked polymer network to achieve its properties of curing. 

Curing is a process that is characterised by the hardening of any polymer material by the formation of cross-linking of polymer chains. 

There are a number of key properties of epoxy resin that makes them a good fit for a variety of applications in various niches. These properties are: 

  • Excellent adhesion
  • Great strength 
  • Insulation (electrical) 
  • Chemical resistance 
  • Mechanical sturdiness 
  • Budget-friendly 
  • Low toxicity 

What are the applications of epoxy resin?

The applications of the epoxy resin include:

  • Energy applications
  • Building, construction, and renovation
  • Packaging
  • Automotive Industry 
  • Aerospace industry 

As it can be guessed, due to the properties exhibited by epoxy resins, they are used for versatile purposes that pivot around many aspects of science and technology. 

Epoxy resins are used in energy applications where they are linked to the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and form an integral part of many renewable energy resource endeavours such as solar or wind energy. 

Epoxy resins are also employed to increase the overall life of buildings and lessen the need for renovation. Since epoxies are better off than many adhesives (owing to being heat and chemical resistant); they are one of the most widely used adhesives for building purposes. 

The automotive industry makes use of epoxy-based coating technology wherein epoxies provide better adhesion to metals and less corrosion. 

The role of epoxy resin in the packaging industry dates back to the mid-20th century. Since epoxy resins can adhere to metals, these resins protect the food from metals as metals could corrode and cause microbes to infiltrate the food.

Epoxy resins are used to make sports equipment like hockey sticks, tennis rackets, and golf equipment. 

Epoxy resins are also extensively used in the aerospace industry to make reinforced and lightweight materials to cater to the meticulous needs of the aerospace industry.

What is biodegradability?

Biodegradability is the breaking down of complex substances to form simpler substances so that they can become a part of nature again. 

Biodegradability is a natural process that makes use of microbes such as bacteria, fungi and other decomposers to achieve this breakdown. 

Biodegradability is the Earth’s natural dustbin. It is a natural way of discarding waste to make sure that waste does not cause any harm to life and the environment. 

Biodegradability is best suited for natural substances because microbes can break them down. An example can be cotton which is plant-based and hence natural. 

However, biodegradability does not relate well with synthetic substances because of the very nature and structure of these substances. The complex structure of such substances makes it difficult for microbes to break them down. 

Examples of non-biodegradable products can be polymers (plastics), electronic waste, nuclear waste et cetera. 

What does epoxy resin need to be biodegradable?

The current world population stands at 8 billion and is expected to rise exponentially. It is estimated that the world’s population by 2100 will reach beyond 11 billion. 

Increased population means higher demand for products and goods. Higher demand for products means more waste production. Hence, increasing population simply means more waste production and subsequently a better waste management system.

The current waste production (global) stands at an alarming 2 billion tons and more than 40 percent of this waste is left in open dumps that cause serious and direct health impacts on health and the environment. 

If the produced waste is not degraded readily then it would mean that the earth’s capacity to carry life will be put to a bold challenge. Therefore, it is essential to discern between biodegradable and non-biodegradable waste so that actions can be tailored around it. 

The need for epoxy resins to be biodegradable is the very same. It is estimated that the current epoxy resin production stands at a whopping 5 million tons. Imagine if 5 million tons of epoxy resin do not degrade every year. 

What do you think the impacts will be? The earth’s capacity to sustain life will be degraded and we as humans will steer farther away from sustainability. 

Is epoxy resin biodegradable?

Given the context of the cruciality of epoxy resin to be biodegradable, let us see what is the actual story. 

While most thermoset resins are not biodegradable, epoxy resins are biodegradable. A research was conducted in 2018 and it was found that two bacteria namely Rhodococcus rhodochrous and Ochrobactrum anthropi were involved in the degradation of epoxies. 

Previously, it was thought that the general rule of thumb about biodegradability is that natural substances are biodegradable whereas synthetic substances are not biodegradable. 

As it has been established that resins may source from both natural and non-natural sources. It is linked that when the resin is made from natural sources like plant-based material, they are biodegradable. 

However, resins which are made from man-made materials, are not biodegradable. This is because microbes are not able to break the structure of such material and as a result, they persist in the environment for a very long time. 

Epoxy resin belongs to the class of thermoset resins. Unfortunately, most of the thermoset resins are not biodegradable and the same was assumed for epoxies as well. 

However, a research was carried out 3 years back and it was found that epoxies are actually biodegradable and hence, adding another value to the overall characteristics of epoxy resins. 

Is epoxy resin harmful to human health?

It has been established that epoxies are biodegradable along with other tons of uses and applications. However, these certifications alone do not earn the epoxies the status of environmentally friendly. There are numerous other checks as well. 

Among those is the question of what is the relation between epoxies and human health. Is it neutral or negative because in the case of the latter, the use of epoxies can not be termed sustainable. 

It is claimed that there are numerous effects of epoxy resin on human health. These include irritation, allergies, and dermatitis. Some researchers have also established a link between epoxy resins and other serious medical complications too. 

It is claimed that some epoxy resins contain a chemical known as DDS (Diaminodiphenyl sulfone) which is a carcinogen and also is responsible for genetic mutations as well. 

Epoxy resin can also be poisonous if they are consumed or if its fumes are breathed in. This implies that epoxies do not really gel well with human biology and extreme care must be taken while using epoxy resin.

It is even said that the use of face masks (even N95) masks will not prevent the lungs from the harm caused by epoxy resin and therefore it is quite important to avoid the inhalation of epoxies let alone the consumption. 

Is epoxy resin environmentally friendly?

It is very important to know as a consumer whether epoxy resin causes any harm to the environment or not. 

Research has already declared that epoxy resin is biodegradable. However, biodegradability does not mean that any material is not harmful to the environment. 

For example, drywall mud is also biodegradable but its degradation releases many harmful and toxic gases into the environment which also affect human health. 

A number of health risks associated with epoxy resin have already been explored in the previous section. Now, let us see if epoxy resin causes any harm to the environment or not. 

Literature and research reveal that the use and applications of epoxy resin do not cause any direct harm to the environment. That is because epoxy resins are rather non-toxic to the environment. 

The use of epoxy resin is not linked to any type of air pollution including land, water and air. However, it is also said that for epoxy resins to be safe, they must be completely polymerised. 

Another factor that we must be mindful of is that the production of epoxy resin must also be environmentally friendly and not toxic in any way. 

If that does not happen, even though the epoxy resin is not harmful to the environment, the production process of epoxy resin will still be harmful and hence epoxy resin can not be called environmentally friendly. 

Which resins are environmentally friendly?

You must be wondering that although epoxy resins are usually inert to the environment, are there any other resins too which are also environmentally friendly?

As a general rule of thumb, resins that are made from natural sources (plant-based) are environmentally friendly. However, it is very rare that synthetic resins are also environmentally friendly. 

Among the environmentally safe resins, there are eco-resins, silicone and epoxy resins. These resins are safe for the environment and non-toxic in nature. They pose no threats as such and are not linked to pollution. 

However, most of the remaining resins are unfit for the idea of sustainability. They are toxic and non-biodegradable. The use of chemicals and fossils is harmful since chemicals may leech out leading to soil degradation whereas fossils cause global warming and pollution. 

Conclusion 

It is concluded that epoxy resin is biodegradable as per the recent research. Once polymerised, the epoxy resin also causes no significant harm to the environment. 

However, epoxy resin is linked to many medical complications as they are poisonous and exposure may lead to allergies and lung infections. 

It is also concluded that the production process of these epoxy resins also needs to be sustainable because otherwise even though epoxy resins are not harmful to the environment, their production will still harm the environment. 

Frequently Asked Questions: Is epoxy resin biodegradable?

Which microbes are responsible for the degradation of epoxy resin?

The microbes responsible for the degradation of epoxy resin are Rhodococcus rhodochrous and Ochrobactrum anthropi. 

Can epoxy resins be recycled?

Yes, epoxy resin can be recycled. Silicone and eco-resins can also be recycled making them environmentally friendly. 

References

  • Rahman, M., & Akhtarul Islam, M. (2021). Application of epoxy resins in building materials: progress and prospects. Polymer Bulletin, 1-27.
  • Eliaz, N., Ron, E. Z., Gozin, M., Younger, S., Biran, D., & Tal, N. (2018). Microbial degradation of epoxy. Materials, 11(11), 2123.

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