Preliminary study to characterize plastic polymers using elemental analyser/isotope ratio mass spectrometry (EA/IRMS)

Plastic waste is a growing global environmental problem, particularly in the marine ecosystems, in consideration of its persistence. The monitoring of the plastic waste has become a global issue, as reported by several surveillance guidelines proposed by Regional Sea Conventions (OSPAR, UNEP) and appointed by the EU Marine Strategy Framework Directive.

Policy responses to plastic waste vary at many levels, ranging from beach clean-up to bans on the commercialization of plastic bags and to Regional Plans for waste management and recycling. Moreover, in recent years, the production of plant-derived biodegradable plastic polymers has assumed increasing importance. This study reports the first preliminary characterization of carbon stable isotopes (δ13C) of different plastic polymers (petroleum- and plant-derived) in order to increase the dataset of isotopic values as a tool for further investigation in different fields of polymers research as well as in the marine environment surveillance . The δ13C values determined in different packaging for food uses reflect the plant origin of “BIO” materials, whereas the recycled plastic materials displayed a δ13C signatures between plant- and petroleum-derived polymers source. In a preliminary estimation, the different colours of plastic did not affect the variability of δ13C values, whereas the abiotic and biotic degradation processes that occurred in the plastic materials collected on beaches and in seawater, showed less negative δ13C values. A preliminary experimental field test confirmed these results . The advantages offered by isotope ratio mass spectrometry with respect to other analytical methods used to characterize the composition of plastic polymers are: high sensitivity, small amount of material required, rapidity of analysis, low cost and no limitation in black/dark samples compared with spectroscopic analysis.

Daniela Berto, Federico Rampazzo, Claudia Gion and al., Chemosphere, Volume 176, June 2017, Pages 47–56

The article

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