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Plastic wastes are a huge problem in our ecosystem. The amount of plastics waste distributed at our current time even have the ability to choke different water bodies from small streamlines to the beaches and shorelines of the vast seas and oceans. This pollution we get from plastics is due to a synthetic chemical component that makes up plastics themselves, also known as polymers. Polymers do not easily decompose on a natural basis, but a recent study may change the course of plastic trash through new environmentally degradable plastics.


Plastic Pollution No More: Bio-Degradable Plastic Can Break Down Within a Week

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(Photo: Stas Knop / Pexels)

The plastic wastes can become eased, based on a study published in the Journal of the American Chemical Society JACS entitled "Complete degradation of a conjugated polymer into green upcycling products by sunlight in air." According to the study, the chemical engineering experts developed a new type of biodegradable plastic that can structurally break down in just a week.

The experts formulated a chemical characterization by utilizing mass spectroscopy and nuclear magnetic resonance or NMR. Through this process, the experts are able to conclude that petroleum-based polymer decomposed into succinic acid, and plastics that have this composition can decompose quickly naturally under the sunlight.

Sun-sensitive plastics might seem unreliable in terms of holding products that must be preserved for a long time. These kinds of plastic bottles and bags might last even if stored on a shelf, but scientists are now in the process of integrating the newly innovated eco-polymers into a minor ingredient among other biodegradable compositions and even other polymers too.

The biodegradable polymer can help us reduce plastic waste, as this type of chemical easily breaks down in landfills, says Huazhong University of Science and Technology's organic material expert and co-author of the study Liang Luo. He adds that these types of polymer can potentially be added to electronic devices such as smartphones, etc., and it can be kept inside the devices for years without sunlight and oxygen contact, Inceptive Mind reports.

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Polymers Turns to Succinic Acid with Sunlight and Oxygen, Could Reduce Plastic Waste

Degradable plastic is part of the devices that will be much efficient for the electronic wastes as it will lessen the accumulated plastic trash from dumping end-of-service devices. The succinic acid byproduct from degradable polymers could also be upcycled for commercial purposes for the pharmaceutical and food industries.

Liang conducted the experiment of the degradable polymer back in 2020 when he tried to change the color of plastic with pH for chemical sensor application. Through the experiment, Liang observed that the plastic's natural color faded quickly, with the film of the plastic breaking apart throughout the days that it was exposed from the sunlight. The examination suggests that the natural, deep color of the plastic is not from dye but from the chains of monomers, and the loss of color under light meant that the monomer chains were broken down.

The breaking down of the plastics was analyzed using the NMR, identifying the polymer's structure. Under the sunlight, a broken-down polymer's structure appeared to be similar to succinic acid. With the data from the degrading process, the breaking down of polymers is determined to be using photo-oxidative degradation, reports PNAS.

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