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Polymer degradation

Polymer degradation is a change in the properties - tensile strength, colour, shape, etc - of a polymer or polymer based product under the influence of one or more environmental factors such as heat, light or chemicals. These changes may be undesirable, such as changes during use, or desirable, as in biodegradation or deliberately lowering the molecular weight of a polymer. Such changes occur primarily because of the effect of these factors on the chemical composition of the polymer.

In a finished product such a change is to be prevented or delayed. However the degradation process can be useful from the view points of understanding the structure of a polymer or recycling/reusing the polymer waste to prevent or reduce environmental pollution.

Polymers molecules are very large on the molecular scale which derive their unique and useful properties from their size.

Today there a primarily six commodity polymers in use, namely polyethylene, polypropylene, polyvinyl chloride, polyethylene terephthalate, polystyrene and polycarbonate. These make up nearly 98% of all polymers and plastics encountered in daily life. Each of these polymers has its own characteristic modes of degradation and resistances to heat, light and chemicals.

For example, polyethylene usually degrades by random scission - that is by a random breakage of the linkages (bonds) that hold the atoms of the polymer together. When this polymer is heated above 450 Celsius it becomes a complex mixture of molecules of various sizes which resemble gasoline. Other polymers - like polyalphamethylstyrene - undergo 'specific' chain scission with breakage occurring only at the ends. they literally unzip or depolymerize to become the constituent monomers.

This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Polymer_degradation". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.
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