Biodegradations and Recycling of Polymers, Chemistry tutorial


We live in an age of polymers. Most products we use daily are polymers, and would be missed if they are removed. Disposal of several polymers have been huge environmental concerns. Degradations including biodegradations and recycling have made polymers to be more useful to us, as well as prevent them getting extinct. Such techniques pave way for developments of better polymer materials. Degradations can be caused by artificial factors as heat, temperature changes, effects of catalysts, and so on; or can be natural as in biodegradations, that are generally desirable transforms of breaking polymers into smaller fragments caused through enzyme-catalyzed reactions. Such are generally hydrolytic reactions. 

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Degradations including biodegradations, and recycling have made polymers to be more useful to us, as well as prevent them getting extinct. These methods pave way for developments of better polymer materials.

Biodegradations in polymers

Utilize of enzyme-catalyzed reactions to break polymers into smaller segments is said to be biodegradation. Enzymes from micro-organisms are utilized. Carbon-carbon bonds in chain-growth polymers are tough and not simply biodegradable. For them to be degraded a choice is to introduce breakable bonds that are weak links into them that will participate in the enzyme-catalyzed reactions. For example hydrolysable ester groups. It can now be susceptible to biodegradations. 

Degradation of polymers is a transform in its properties as tensile strength, colour, shape, and so on. It can be as the influence of one or more environmental factors, these as heat, light, chemical, galvanic action. It is due to the hydrolysis of the bonds bonding the polymer chain that in turn directs to reduce in the molecular mass of the polymer. Such changes might be undesirable, such as changes during utilize, or desirable, as in biodegradations or to deliberately lower the molecular mass of a polymer. Such transforms take place primarily since of the consequence of such factors on the chemical composition of the polymer. Ozone cracking and UV degradation are specific failure modes for certain polymers.

It has been found that polymer degradation can occur through galvanic actions. In 1990, Michael Faudree discovered that imide-linked resins in CFRP (carbon fiber reinforced polymers) composites get degraded when bare composite is coupled with an active metal in saline that is salt water environments. This phenomenon, that polymers can undergo galvanic corrosion like metals do have been termed to as the 'Faudree Effect'. Standard corrosion protection procedures were establish to prevent polymer degradation under most conditions.

The degradation of polymers to shape smaller molecules might proceed via random scission or specific scission. The degradation of polyethylene occurs by random scission-a random breakage of the linkages (bonds) that hold the atoms of the polymer mutually.

When heated above 450°C it degrades to form a mixture of hydrocarbons. Other polymers-as polyalphamethylstyrene-undergo precise chain scission through breakage occurring only at the ends. They literally unzip or depolymerize to become the constituent monomer. 


Degradation procedure can be helpful if we understand the structure of a polymer or recycling/ re-use of the polymer waste to prevent or diminish environmental pollution.

Polylactic acid and polyglycolic acid for instance, are 2 polymers that are useful for their ability to degrade under aqueous conditions. A copolymer of such polymers is utilized for biomedical applications, such as hydrolysable stitches that degrade over time after they are applied to a wound. Such materials can as well be utilized for plastics that will degrade over time after they are utilized and will therefore not remain as litter. The sorting of polymer waste for recycling purposes may be facilitated via utilize of the Resin identification codes, extended through the 'Society of the Plastics Industry' to recognize the kind of plastic, and recycle consequently so as to attain the desired products.

Chlorine attack acetal resin plumbing joints.

In a terminated product, these changes are to be avoided or delayed. Failure of safety dangerous polymer components can reason serious accidents, these as fire in the case of cracked and degraded polymer fuel lines. Chlorine-induced cracking of acetal resin plumbing joints and polybutylene pipes has caused many serious floods in domestic properties, particularly in the USA in the year 1990s. Traces of chlorine in the water provide attacked vulnerable polymers in the plastic plumbing, a problem that takes place faster if any of the parts have been badly extruded or injection moulded. Attack of the acetal joint happened since of faulty moulding leading to cracking along the threads of the fitting that are serious stress concentrations. 

Ozone cracking in natural rubber tubing

Polymer oxidation has caused accidents involving medical devices. One of the oldest known failure modes is ozone cracking caused by chain scission when ozone gas attacks susceptible elastomers such as natural rubber and nitrile rubber. They possess double bonds in their repeating units which are cleaved during ozonolysis. Cracks in fuel lines can penetrate the bore of the tube and cause fuel leakage. If cracking takes place in the engine compartment, electric sparks can ignite the gasoline and can cause a serious fire. Fuel lines can as well be attacked via another form of degradation: hydrolysis. Nylon 6, 6 is susceptible to acid hydrolysis that in an accident, a fractured fuel line led to a spillage of diesel in the road. If diesel fuel leaks onto the road, accidents to given cars can be caused via the slippery nature of the deposit that is like black ice. 

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