Synthesis of 3H-polyethylene and its use for fate studies on degradable plastics

Todd A. Anderson, Devin M. Scherubel, Rong Tsao, Alan W. Schwabacher, Joel R. Coats

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Determining the fate of xenobiotic materials in the environment can be aided by the use of radioactive isotope technology. Previous research on the degradation of polymers such as polyethylene (PE) was aided by the utilization of radiotracers. In order to study the environmental fate of degradable (PE/starch) plastics, we synthesized 3H-labeled PE. Results of soil incubation studies indicate that only minimal degradation of the PE component, as indicated by the production of water-soluble metabolites, occurred during 2 years of incubation in soil. Despite the minimal degradation, the 3H label did not allow for detection of the degradation products. In addition, the 3H-PE was particularly useful for tracing the fate of degradable plastics after consumption by terrestrial isopods. The detection of aqueous-soluble radioactivity in isopod frass was used to indicate degradation of the plastic film.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)119-124
Number of pages6
JournalJournal of Environmental Polymer Degradation
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 1997


  • H-polyethylene
  • degradable plastics
  • environmental fate


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