To address plastic pollution plaguing the world’s seas and waterways, Cornell University chemists have developed a new polymer that can degrade by ultraviolet radiation, according to research published in the Journal of the American Chemical Society.
“We have created a new plastic that has the mechanical properties required by commercial fishing gear. If it eventually gets lost in the aquatic environment, this material can degrade on a realistic time scale,” said lead researcher Bryce Lipinski, a doctoral candidate in the laboratory of Geoff Coates, professor of chemistry and chemical biology at Cornell University. “This material could reduce persistent plastic accumulation in the environment.”
Commercial fishing contributes to about half of all floating plastic waste that ends up in the oceans, Lipinski said. Fishing nets and ropes are primarily made from three kinds of polymers: isotactic polypropylene, high-density polyethylene, and nylon-6,6, none of which readily degrade.
“While research of degradable plastics has received much attention in recent years,” he said, “obtaining a material with the mechanical strength comparable to commercial plastic remains a difficult challenge.”
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