Molecular Weight Changes and Polymeric Matrix Changes Correlated with the Formation of Degradation Products in Biodegraded Polyethylene

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Abstract

The molecular weight changes in abiotically and biotically degraded LDPE and LDPE modified with starch and/or prooxidant were compared with the formation of degradation products. The samples were thermooxidized for 6 days at 100°C to initiate degradation and then either inoculated with Arthobacter paraffineus or kept sterile. After 3.5 years homologous series of mono- and dicarboxylic acids and ketoacids were identified by GC-MS in abiotic samples, while complete disappearance of these acids was observed in biotic environments. The molecular weights of the biotically aged samples were slightly higher than the molecular weights of the corresponding abiotically aged samples, which is exemplified by the increase in JOURNAL/jpenv/04.02/00130516-199806040-00002/ENTITY_OV0491/v/2017-10-11T042107Z/r/image-pngn from 5200 g/mol for a sterile sample with the highest amount of prooxidant to 6000 g/mol for the corresponding biodegraded sample. The higher molecular weight in the biotic environment is explained by the assimilation of carboxylic acids and low molecular weight polyethylene chains by microorganisms. Assimilation of the low molecular weight products is further confirmed by the absence of carboxylic acids in the biotic samples. Fewer carbonyls and more double bonds were seen by FTIR in the biodegraded samples, which is in agreement with the biodegradation mechanism of polyethylene.

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