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Influence of thermooxidative degradation on the in situ fate of polyethylene in temperate coastal waters

Journal article
Authors Therese Karlsson
Martin Hassellöv
Ignacy Jakubowicz
Published in Marine Pollution Bulletin
Volume 135
Pages 187-194
ISSN 0025-326X
Publication year 2018
Published at Department of marine sciences
The Sven Lovén Centre for Marine Sciences
Pages 187-194
Language en
Keywords Fate, FTIR, In situ degradation, Microplastics, Plastic pollution, Weathering
Subject categories Environmental Sciences, Polymer Chemistry


© 2018 Elsevier Ltd Polyethylene is a commonly used polymer in plastic products and is often found as marine litter. Nevertheless there is limited knowledge about what happens to the material when it ends up in the sea. Polyethylene films were therefore thermally oxidised to four different levels of degradation. The films were then placed in stainless-steel cages in the sea off the Swedish west coast for 12 summer weeks. Subsamples were analysed with respect to biofouling, degradation and buoyancy. All levels showed a continued oxidation in the field. The pre-degraded films started fragmenting and the non-degraded films showed a decrease in tensile strain. All levels showed increased biofouling with higher presence of filamentous algae and bryozoans on pre-degraded materials. The density (kg·m−3) of the films was seen to increase slightly, and the apparent density for the pre-degraded films (density of the films with biofilm) showed a strong increase, which resulted in sinking.

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