Effects of Electron-Beam Irradiation and Ultraviolet Light (365 nm) on Polylactic Acid Plastic Films1

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Strips of Ca-I [polylactic acid (PLA) monolayer plastic films from Cargill Dow Polymers LLC, Minnetonka, MN] cut in the machine and nonmachine directions were irradiated with an electron beam using a CIRCLE III Linear Accelerator (MeV Industries S.A., Jouy-en-Josas, Cedex, France). The effects of 33-kGy irradiation on the physical properties of the Ca-I strips were studied. In addition, the effects of ultraviolet (UV) light (365-nm) illumination on the degradation of three PLA plastic films, Ch-I (PLA monolayer plastic films from Chronopol, Golden, CO), GII (PLA trilayer plastic films from Cargill Dow Polymers LLC), MN), and Ca-I (PLA monolayer plastic films from Cargill Dow Polymers LLC) were analyzed by a modified ASTM D5208-91 method. Results showed that irradiation had decreased the weight-average molecular weight (Mw), stress at break, percentage of elongation, and strain energy of Ca-I by 35.5, 26.7, 32.3, and 44.8%, respectively (P < 0.01). The shelf life of the irradiated Ca-I strips at 5°C and <20 ± 5% RH was about 6 months. The degradation rate of Ch-I, GII, and Ca-I with no UV light treatment at 55°C and 10% RH was 2512, 5618, and 3785 Mw/week, respectively. Under the UV light illumination (365 nm), the degradation rate of Ch-I, GII, and Ca-I, was 2982, 8722, and 7467 Mw/week, respectively. Hence, the degradation rate of GII and Ca-I was increased 55 and 97% by UV light (P < 0.008), respectively. This trend was not observed in Ch-I because its starting Mw (78,000 g/mol) was close to the tensile strength lost range (50,000 to 75,000 g/mol) of PLA films. To our knowledge, this is the first study to demonstrate that UV light does further enhance the degradation of PLA films.

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