Observation of the degradation of three types of plastic pellets exposed to UV irradiation in three different environments

Liqi Cai, Jundong Wang, Jinping Peng, Ziqing Wu, Xiangling Tan
Science of the Total Environment 2018 July 1, 628-629: 740-747
Plastic debris represents one of the most prevalent and persistent pollution problems in the marine environment. In particular, microplastics that are mainly degraded from larger plastic debris have become a growing environmental concern. However, studies on the degradation of plastics in the aquatic environment that hydrobios reside in have been limited, while several studies regarding the degradation of plastics have been conducted under outdoor or accelerated weathering conditions. Thus, observation of the degradation of three types of virgin plastic pellets exposed to UV irradiation in three different environments (i.e., simulated seawater, ultrapure water, and a waterless (air) condition) was carried out. Data on the changes in physical and chemical properties were collected. The FTIR spectra showed that hydroxyl groups and carbonyl groups developed in three types of weathered plastic pellets under the air and ultrapure water environmental conditions after 3months of UV irradiation, while only carbonyl groups were found in plastic pellets in the simulated seawater environment. In contrast, the Raman spectra showed no significant changes in the weathered plastic pellets, but there were different intensities of characteristic peaks after exposure to UV irradiation. In addition, SEM images illustrated that granular oxidation, cracks and flakes were common patterns during degradation, and the plastic pellets in the three different environments experienced different levels of chemical weathering. We suggest that further studies on the degradation processes of plastic debris are needed to predict the fate of plastic debris in the environment.

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