Scientists launch livestream experiment to reveal true timescales for ‘biodegradable’ plastics

Scientists launch livestream experiment to reveal true timescales for ‘biodegradable’ plastics

In the wake of an evidence review coordinated by AE Cardiff, scientists are conducting a unique public experiment to discover how long biodegradable plastics actually take to break down in the cool waters of Northern Europe – and anyone in the world can watch in real-time.

In this international experiment, hosted by Akvariet i Bergen (Bergen Aquarium), samples of several plastics labelled as being ‘biodegradable’ have been immersed in a tank, in conditions that replicate those found in the fjords of western Norway – from the water temperature, to the types of fish. The aim is to discover how long the biodegradation process takes and whether the location of the samples within the tank makes any difference. A 24/7 webcam at allows viewers to observe the process happening in real-time.

Dr Gunhild Bødtker, the lead scientist behind the experiment, said:

“The rate at which a plastic item biodegrades is not just down to the material it is made of – it also depends on the conditions in the environment where it ends up. Previous experiments along these lines have been carried out in warmer Asian and temperate Mediterranean waters.”

The scientific experiment, co-led by the NORCE research institute, and HYDRA Marine Sciences, follows on from the Biodegradability of plastics in the open environment Evidence Review Report published by SAPEA as part of the European Commission’s Scientific Advice Mechanism. 

Professor Antonio Loprieno, chair of SAPEA, said:

“This live experiment is a great example of how members of the public can engage with ongoing scientific inquiry. Not only will it give scientists vital information about how biodegradable plastic really behaves if it ends up in the ocean, but being able to view the experiment online will allow people all over the world to visualise the effects of plastic littering in the natural environment.”

To view the live webcam, and for more information about the experiment and the science behind it, visit

More about the SAPEA Evidence Review Report

The SAPEA Evidence Review Report Biodegradability of plastics in the open environment was coordinated by AE Cardiff and published in late 2020. The Evidence Review Report informed the Scientific Opinion by the Group of Chief Scientific Advisors. Both documents contribute to the European Commission’s policy framework related to bio-based, biodegradable and compostable plastics, and will help to define the main challenges and policy actions needed in this area.  They are available here.

Posted 24th January 2022. For further information please contact

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