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Concept: Plastics


Global warming, market and production capacity are being the key drivers for selecting the main players for the next decades in the market of bio-based plastics. The drop-in bio-based polymers such as the bio-based polyethylene terephtalate (PET) or polyethylene (PE), chemically identical to their petrochemical counterparts but having a component of biological origin, are in the top of the list. They are followed by new polymers such as PHA and PLA with a significant market growth rate since 2014 with projections to 2020. Research will provide improved strains designed through synthetic and systems biology approaches; furthermore, the use of low-cost substrates will contribute to the widespread application of these bio- based polymers. The durability of plastics is not considered anymore as a virtue, and interesting bioprospecting strategies to isolate microorganisms for assimilating the recalcitrant plastics will pave the way for in vivo strategies for plastic mineralization. In this context, waste management of bio-based plastic will be one of the most important issues in the near future in terms of the circular economy. There is a clear need for standardized labelling and sorting instructions, which should be regulated in a coordinated way by policymakers and material producers.

Concepts: Biology, Polymer, Plastic, Polystyrene, Polyethylene, Plastics, Thermoplastic, Resin identification code


Concerns regarding marine plastic pollution and its affinity for chemical pollutants led us to quantify relationships between different types of mass-produced plastic and organic contaminants in an urban bay. At five locations in San Diego Bay, CA we measured sorption of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) throughout a 12-month period to the five most common types of mass-produced plastic: polyethylene terephthalate (PET), high-density polyethylene (HDPE), polyvinyl chloride (PVC), low-density polyethylene (LDPE), and polypropylene (PP). During this long-term field experiment, sorption rates and concentrations of PCBs and PAHs varied significantly among plastic types and among locations. Our data suggest that for PAHs and PCBs, PET and PVC reach equilibrium in the marine environment much faster than HDPE, LDPE and PP. Most importantly, concentrations of PAHs and PCBs sorbed to HDPE, LDPE and PP were consistently much greater than concentrations sorbed to PET and PVC. These data imply that products made from HDPE, LDPE and PP pose a greater risk than products made from PET and PVC of concentrating these hazardous chemicals onto fragmented plastic debris ingested by marine animals.

Concepts: Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon, Plastic, Polypropylene, Recyclable materials, Plastics, Thermoplastic, Linear low-density polyethylene, Plastic recycling


The Mediterranean Sea has been recently proposed as one of the most impacted regions of the world with regards to microplastics, however the polymeric composition of these floating particles is still largely unknown. Here we present the results of a large-scale survey of neustonic micro- and meso-plastics floating in Mediterranean waters, providing the first extensive characterization of their chemical identity as well as detailed information on their abundance and geographical distribution. All particles >700 μm collected in our samples were identified through FT-IR analysis (n = 4050 particles), shedding for the first time light on the polymeric diversity of this emerging pollutant. Sixteen different classes of synthetic materials were identified. Low-density polymers such as polyethylene and polypropylene were the most abundant compounds, followed by polyamides, plastic-based paints, polyvinyl chloride, polystyrene and polyvinyl alcohol. Less frequent polymers included polyethylene terephthalate, polyisoprene, poly(vinyl stearate), ethylene-vinyl acetate, polyepoxide, paraffin wax and polycaprolactone, a biodegradable polyester reported for the first time floating in off-shore waters. Geographical differences in sample composition were also observed, demonstrating sub-basin scale heterogeneity in plastics distribution and likely reflecting a complex interplay between pollution sources, sinks and residence times of different polymers at sea.

Concepts: Polymer, Plastic, Polypropylene, Plastics, Thermoplastic, Polyethylene terephthalate, Polymers, Thermoplastics


In this paper we explore the direct transfer via lamination of chemical vapor deposition graphene onto different flexible substrates. The transfer method investigated here is fast, simple, and does not require an intermediate transfer membrane, such as polymethylmethacrylate, which needs to be removed afterward. Various substrates of general interest in research and industry were studied in this work, including polytetrafluoroethylene filter membranes, PVC, cellulose nitrate/cellulose acetate filter membranes, polycarbonate, paraffin, polyethylene terephthalate, paper, and cloth. By comparing the properties of these substrates, two critical factors to ensure a successful transfer on bare substrates were identified: the substrate’s hydrophobicity and good contact between the substrate and graphene. For substrates that do not satisfy those requirements, polymethylmethacrylate can be used as a surface modifier or glue to ensure successful transfer. Our results can be applied to facilitate current processes and open up directions for applications of chemical vapor deposition graphene on flexible substrates. A broad range of applications can be envisioned, including fabrication of graphene devices for opto/organic electronics, graphene membranes for gas/liquid separation, and ubiquitous electronics with graphene.

Concepts: Acetic acid, Chemical vapor deposition, Paper, Plastics, Thermoplastic, Polyethylene terephthalate, Membrane, Thermoplastics


During its tenure in vivo, synthetic mesh materials are exposed to foreign body responses, which can alter physicochemical properties of the material. Three different synthetic meshes comprised of polypropylene, expanded polytetrafluoroethylene (ePTFE), and polyethylene terephthalate (PET) materials were explanted from a single patient providing an opportunity to compare physicochemical changes between three different mesh materials in the same host. Results from infrared spectroscopy demonstrated significant oxidation in polypropylene mesh while ePTFE and PET showed slight chemical changes that may be caused by adherent scar tissue. Differential scanning calorimetry results showed a significant decrease in the heat of enthalpy and melt temperature in the polypropylene mesh while the ePTFE and PET showed little change. The presence of giant cells and plasma cells surrounding the ePTFE and PET were indicative of an active foreign body response. Scanning electron micrographs and photo micrographs displayed tissue entrapment and distortion of all three mesh materials.

Concepts: Spectroscopy, Polymer, Thermodynamics, Polypropylene, Materials science, Scanning electron microscope, Plastics, Polyethylene terephthalate


The influence of PBR composition [clear polyurethane (PolyU) vs. clear linear low-density polyethylene (LLDPE) (top) and black opaque high-density polyethylene (bottom)] and shape (rectangular vs. tubular) on biofouling and the influence of biofouling on algae productivity were investigated. In 9-week experiments, PBR biofouling was dominated by pennate diatoms and clear plastics developed macroalgae. LLDPE exhibited lower photosynthetic-active-radiation (PAR) light transmittance than PolyU before biofouling, but higher transmittance afterwards. Both rectangular and tubular LLDPE PBRs accumulated biofouling predominantly along their wetted edges. For a tubular LLDPE PBR after 12weeks of biofouling, the correlation between biomass, percent surface coverage, and PAR transmittance was complex, but in general biomass inversely correlated with transmittance. Wrapping segments of this biofouled LLDPE around an algae culture reduced CO2 and NH3-N utilization, indicating that external biofouling must be controlled.

Concepts: Algae, Photosynthesis, Polyethylene, Plastics, Linear low-density polyethylene, High-density polyethylene, Low-density polyethylene, Polyolefins


Concerns regarding plastic debris and its ability to accumulate large concentrations of priority pollutants in the aquatic environment led us to quantify relationships between different types of mass-produced plastic and metals in seawater. At three locations in San Diego Bay, we measured the accumulation of nine targeted metals (aluminum, chromium, manganese, iron, cobalt, nickel, zinc, cadmium and lead) sampling at 1, 3, 6, 9 and 12 months, to five plastic types: polyethylene terephthalate (PET), high-density polyethylene (HDPE), polyvinyl chloride (PVC), low-density polyethylene (LDPE), and polypropylene (PP). Accumulation patterns were not consistent over space and time, and in general all types of plastic tended to accumulate similar concentrations of metals. When we did observe significant differences among concentrations of metals at a single sampling period or location in San Diego Bay, we found that HDPE typically accumulated lesser concentrations of metals than the other four polymers. Furthermore, over the 12-month study period, concentrations of all metals increased over time, and chromium, manganese, cobalt, nickel, zinc and lead did not reach saturation on at least one plastic type during the entire 12-month exposure. This suggests that plastic debris may accumulate greater concentrations of metals the longer it remains at sea. Overall, our work shows that a complex mixture of metals, including those listed as priority pollutants by the US EPA (Cd, Ni, Zn and Pb), can be found on plastic debris composed of various plastic types.

Concepts: Metal, Zinc, Plastic, Polypropylene, Recyclable materials, Nickel, Plastics, Plastic recycling


Between 60% and 80% of all marine litter is plastic. Leachate from plastics has previously been shown to cause acute toxicity in the freshwater species Daphnia magna. Here, we present an initial screening of the marine environmental hazard properties of leachates from weathering plastics to the marine harpacticoid copepod [Crustacea] Nitocra spinipes. Twenty-one plastic products made of different polymeric materials were leached and irradiated with artificial sunlight. Eight of the twenty-one plastics (38%) produced leachates that caused acute toxicity. Differences in toxicity were seen for different plastic products, and depending on the duration of irradiation. There was no consistent trend in how toxicity of leachate from plastics changed as a function of irradiation time. Leachate from four plastics became significantly more toxic after irradiation, two became significantly less toxic and two did not change significantly. Analysis of leachates from polyvinyl chloride (PVC) by liquid chromatography coupled to a full-scan high-resolution mass spectrometer showed that the leachates were a mixture of substances, but did not show evidence of degradation of the polymer backbone. This screening study demonstrates that leachates from different plastics differ in toxicity to N. spinipes and that the toxicity varies under simulated weathering.

Concepts: Polymer, Toxicology, Plastic, Toxicity, Plastics, Thermoplastic, Polyvinyl chloride, Plastic recycling


This study investigated the potential of bacterial-mediated polyethylene (PE) degradation in a two-phase microcosm experiment. During phase I, naturally weathered PE films were incubated for 6 months with the indigenous marine community alone as well as bioaugmented with strains able to grow in minimal medium with linear low-density polyethylene (LLDPE) as the sole carbon source. At the end of phase I the developed biofilm was harvested and re-inoculated with naturally weathered PE films. Bacteria from both treatments were able to establish an active population on the PE surfaces as the biofilm community developed in a time dependent way. Moreover, a convergence in the composition of these communities was observed towards an efficient PE degrading microbial network, comprising of indigenous species. In acclimated communities, genera affiliated with synthetic (PE) and natural (cellulose) polymer degraders as well as hydrocarbon degrading bacteria were enriched. The acclimated consortia (indigenous and bioaugmented) reduced more efficiently the weight of PE films in comparison to non-acclimated bacteria. The SEM images revealed a dense and compact biofilm layer and signs of bio-erosion on the surface of the films. Rheological results suggest that the polymers after microbial treatment had wider molecular mass distribution and a marginally smaller average molar mass suggesting biodegradation as opposed to abiotic degradation. Modifications on the surface chemistry were observed throughout phase II while the FTIR profiles of microbially treated films at month 6 were similar to the profiles of virgin PE. Taking into account the results, we can suggest that the tailored indigenous marine community represents an efficient consortium for degrading weathered PE plastics.

Concepts: Archaea, Bacteria, Mass, Polymer, Polyethylene, Plastics, Molecular mass, Linear low-density polyethylene


Plastics are one of the most widely used materials and, in most cases, they are designed to have long life times. Thus, plastics contain a complex blend of stabilizers that prevent them from degrading too quickly. Unfortunately, many of the most advantageous properties of plastics such as their chemical, physical and biological inertness and durability present challenges when plastic is released into the environment. Common plastics such as polyethylene (PE), polypropylene (PP), polystyrene (PS), and polyethylene terephthalate (PET) are extremely persistent in the environment, where they undergo very slow fragmentation (projected to take centuries) into small particles through photo-, physical, and biological degradation processes(1). The fragmentation of the material into increasingly smaller pieces is an unavoidable stage of the degradation process. Ultimately, plastic materials degrade to micron-sized particles (microplastics), which are persistent in the environment and present a potential source of harm for organisms.

Concepts: Polymer, Plastic, Polystyrene, Polypropylene, Polyethylene, Plastics, Thermoplastic, Resin identification code