Degradable Polyethylene: Fantasy or Reality

In a recent issue (April 2011) of the American Chemical Society’s journal Environmental Science & Technology, authors Prasun K. Roy, Minna Hakkarainen, Indra K. Varma, and Ann-Christine Albertsson discuss the on-going fantasy and reality of “degradable plastics”.

An excerpt:

“Degradable polyethylene,” which is presently being promoted as an environmentally friendly alternative to the nondegradable counterpart, does not seem to meet this criterion.

This article also outlines important questions, particularly in terms of time scale of complete degradation, environmental fate of the polymer residues, and possible accumulation of toxins, the answers to which need to be established prior to accepting these polymers as environmentally benign alternatives to their nondegradable equivalents. It appears from the existing literature that our search for biodegradable polyethylene has not yet been realized.

It is valuable reading for anyone interested in understanding the pitfalls of seeking a quick-fix to complex environmental issues. You can order the article on degradable plastics here: