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    Are Polymers Photodegradable?
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    This experiment is courtesy of 

    6-Pack Loop Rings Photodegradable?


    Sister Frances Boyle RSM
    West Catholic High School
    Archdiocese of Philadelphia

    Dr. Eugene Dougherty
    Rohm and Haas Company
    Bristol, PA

    Grade Levels:

    Grades 10 through 12




    To have students take a closer look at the current status of an environmental problem: the 6-pack loop ring.

    Specific Objectives:


    The student will:

    1. Review experiments testing photodegradability of the 6-pack ring.
    2. Do further reading and/or experimenting testing the photogradability of the 6-pack ring.
    3. Come to a better understanding of the word "photodegradability" and its application to the 6-pack loop ring.


    Newspapers widely covered the damage to ocean animals caused by the 6-pack loop ring. Dolphins and porpoises may be at considerable risk. These rings are light enough to float on top of the water, so they may be mistaken as food. President Reagan responded by ordering that all 6-pack loop rings are to be photodegradable.


    6-pack loop rings are made from polyethylene-carbon monoxide copolymer. Several short experiments were done to see if the 6-pack loop ring currently in use is photodegradable. The experiments and their results are listed below.

    Experiment A

    1.0097 g of small pieces of ring were placed in a small beaker of sodium chloride (aq) saturated solution, covered with plastic wrap and a watch glass, and left in a hood under regular light. After five (5) days, the sample was washed and dried in the oven at about 150� F and 0.8372 g remained. Apparent change = 0.1725 g or 17.1%. Experiment tried once.

    Experiment B

    1.0500 g of small pieces of ring was placed in a small beaker of sodium chloride (aq) saturated solution, covered with plastic wrap and a watch glass, and left in a hood under IR light. After five (5) days, sample was washed and dried in oven at about 150� F and 0.9987 g remained. Apparent change = 0.0513 g or 0.05%. No significant change.

    Experiment C

    0.9196 g of small pieces of ring were placed in a small beaker of distilled water, covered with plastic wrap and a watch glass, and left in a hood under IR light. After five days, the sample was dried in an oven at about 150� F and 0.9212 g remained. Limitations of balance or water still clinging to the sample seem to explain results.

    Experiment D

    Three 6-pack loop rings were removed from a soda case. The first was rinsed and weighed 3.11 g. The second was left on the ground outside in a sunny area for sixty (60) hours, rinsed, air dried, and weighed 3.08 g. The third was left in a bucket of salt water covered with plastic wrap for sixty (60) hours, rinsed, air dried, and weighed 3.12 g. There seemed to be no significant photodegradability.


    6-pack loop rings


    As a chemist, you are to devise procedures for testing the photodegradability of 6-pack loop rings. First you search the literature. Introduction tells some work that has already been done. What else has or should be done? Photodegradability - how is it defined? How long a time period does it imply for the 6-pack loop ring?.


















    Teaching Note:

    SEPARATION BEFORE PLASTIC RECYCLING. 6-PACK LOOP RINGS - PHOTODEGRADABLE? and LATEX HELIUM BALLOONS - ANY ALTERNATIVES can be used independently or they can be used as an environmental concerns packet, as I used them with my physics classes. All students had had Chemistry the year before and had at least some discussion of environmental concerns. The Physics course called for a review of density and so I began with SEPARATION BEFORE PLASTIC RECYCLING.

    SEPARATION BEFORE PLASTIC RECYCLING was completed with the class. Then the students were given a choice of an independent research project. The choices were:

    1. Experiment with 6-PACK LOOP RINGS - PHOTODEGRADABLE?
    3. Write a letter seeking information on plastic recycling to one (1) of the addresses listed on pages from ENVIRONMENTALLY DEGRADABLE POLYMERS - Supplement A by Harry E. Johnson.

    Organization Activity List

    Students gave preliminary reports of their progress two and four weeks after the assignment was given. A final report of their experimental work or information learned from letter-writing was due in six weeks. Students were told that experiments were successful when they gave report of process used and data obtained. They did not have to reach an undisputable answer on whether the 6-pack loop ring is photodegradable or come up with a successful alternative to the latex helium balloon. They needed to be involved in the process of scientific research.

    American Society for Testing and Materials
    1916 Race Street
    Philadelphia, PA 19103-1187
    (215) 299-5400
    Contact: Wendy Dyer

    Environment and Plastic Institute of Canada
    1262 Don Mills Road, Suite 104
    Don Mills, Ontario, Canada M3B 2W7
    (416) 449-3444
    Contact: Dr. Fred Edgecombe

    Association of Plastics Manufacturers in Europe
    Avenue Louise 250, Box 73
    1050 Brussels, Belgium
    (02) 640 28 50
    Contact: Peter Claus, Director

    Flexible Packaging Association
    1090 Vermont Avenue N.W., Suite 500
    Washington, D.C. 20005
    (202) 842-3880
    Contact: Glenn A. Braswell, President

    Center for Marine Conservation
    1725 DeSales Street
    Washington, D.C. 20036
    (202) 429-5609
    Contact: Patty Debenham
    Marine Debris and Entanglement Clearinghouse

    Keep America Beautiful
    Nine West Broad Street
    Stamford, CT 06902
    (203) 322-8987
    Contact: Russell Canning,
    Communications Manager

    Degradable Plastics Council
    1000 Executive Parkway,
    St. Louis, MO 63141-6397
    (314) 576-5207
    Contact: Timothy J. Draeger, Executive Director

    Mobil Chemical Company
    Suite 1051159 Pittsford-Victor Road
    Pittsford, New York 14534
    (800) 333-0124
    Contact: Robert J. Barrett, General Manager

    Environmental Action Foundation
    1525 New Hampshire Avenue N.W
    Washington, D.C. 20036
    (202) 745-4879
    Contact: Jean Wirka
    Solid Waste Alternatives Project

    National Association for Plastic
    Container Recovery

    5024 Parkway Plaza Blvd., Suite 200
    Charlotte, NC 28217
    (704) 523-8543
    Contact: Luke Schmidt, President

    Plastics Institute of America
    Stevens Institute of Technology
    Castle Point Station
    Hoboken, NJ 07030
    (201) 420-5100
    Contact: Dr. Michael Curry
    Staff Member, PIA

    SPI-Council for Solid Waste Solutions
    (202) 371-5320
    Contact: Susan Vadney
    Hoboken, NJ 07030

    SPI-Plastics Bottle Institute
    (202) 371-5244
    Contact: Deanne Dillingham

    The Society of the Plastics Industry
    1275 K St. N.W., Suite 400
    Washington, D.C. 20005

    SPI-Plastics Recycling Foundation
    (202) 371-5212
    Contact: Wayne Pearson

    SPI-Council for Plastics and Packaging
    In the Environment
    (202) 789-1310
    Contact: Edward J. Stana, Executive Director

    The Vinyl Institute
    155 Route 46 West
    Wayne, NJ 07470
    (201) 890-9299
    Contact: Roy Gottesman,
    Executive Director

    This experiment is courtesy of 

    My Dog Kelly

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    Last updated: June 2013
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