Photo-Oxidative Degradation Effect On Common Plastics In The Ocean

Danielle Hart, Shelby Lefoley, Leah Hart and Trinity O'Neill, Narragansett High School, Narragansett, RI, United States
Throughout this experiment, our group will test different plastics in seawater under UV light and determine how UV light affects the mass and physical characteristics of the plastic over time. Rhode Island is a very ocean-oriented state where plastic in the ocean can greatly affect the state and many people's lives and jobs. We are members of our school's Eco Club and because of our love for the environment and our state, we are performing many projects like eliminating single-use plastic bottles from school and organizing beach clean-ups. We discovered some of the top ten plastic items found on beaches like cigarette filters, food wrappers, plastic bottle caps, plastic bottles, beverage cups, straws, plastic grocery bags, plastic containers, plastic utensils, and plastic food trays. We decided to use some of these items in our experiment to see how they degrade. We are measuring how it is degrading through physical characteristics by looking for melting and cracks under a microscope. Before completing this experiment our group researched plastics in seawater we found that when plastic is under UV light it can affect the physical characteristics of the water. Our group will put seawater in a tray and add pieces of different types of plastics to the water in separate trays. We will test the mass of the plastic over time with a scale and keep the water temperature constant. We are looking at how the plastic changes under the microscope while making observations. Our group is testing three different types of plastic, single-use water bottles, cigarette filters, a plastic bag, plastic bottle caps, and straws. These plastics are made of high-density polyethylene (HDPE), low-density polyethylene (LDPE) and cellulose acetate. Therefore, through research and this experiment, our group is finding how the UV rays on plastic are affecting the mass of the plastics and the physical characteristics of the degrading plastics under the microscope.