Physio-chemical degradation of single-use plastics in natural weather and marine environments

Yvonne Shashoua, Asal Peydaei *, Martin Nordvig Mortensen, Anders Kanstrup, David Gregory

*Corresponding author af dette arbejde

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Plastic pollution has reached concerning levels globally, with single-use plastic products (SUPs) comprising at least 50% of plastic waste. This study investigates the physical and chemical degradation of frequently used SUPs, including petroleum-based and bio-based plastics, in natural Northern European coastal weather and marine environments over a three-year period from 2019 to 2022. Addressing a critical knowledge gap, this research was based on a hypothesis that real-world ageing studies on SUPs would produce more accurate timeand process-lines for their transformation from macro-to microplastics than are available today based on the modeling studies more frequently used. The study employs optical examination, mechanical testing, Fourier Transform Infrared (FTIR) spectroscopy, and Gas Chromatography-Mass Spectrometry (GC-MS) to determine and relate physical and chemical changes with time. The results indicate that SUPs undergo significantly faster degradation in natural weather than predicted to date. Photooxidation emerges as the primary degradation pathway for all SUPs, emphasizing the role of light in plastic breakdown. Importantly, physical degradation to microplastics in natural environments is not always associated with significant chemical changes such as breaking chemical bonds. Black SUPs exhibit greater resistance to visible light and ultraviolet radiation than equivalent white and transparent examples. In marine environments, SUPs degrade measurably slower than in air, their degradation slowing with increasing distance from the water surface. Our findings indicate the urgent need for strategies that mitigate the impacts of photo-oxidation of SUPs. Such strategies may include a focus on the removal of post-use SUPs from pavements, roads, beaches, and water surfaces where photo-oxidation is faster than underwater and underground. Preferential use of black SUPs over white or transparent should also be considered.
TidsskriftEnvironmental Pollution
Antal sider9
StatusUdgivet - 15 sep. 2024