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Faculty of Biology, Chemistry & Earth Sciences

Macromolecular Chemistry II – Prof. Dr. Andreas Greiner (Macromolecular Chemistry & Technology) & Prof. Dr. Seema Agarwal (Advanced Sustainable Polymers)

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Plastic Pollution : A Material Problem?


Jonathan M. Millican, Seema Agarwal

Macromolecules 2021 doi:10.1021/acs.macromol.0c02814

he field of polymer science recently celebrated its 100th anniversary. The excellent material properties of a wide range of plastics (generally used as a synonym for polymers) have opened many new opportunities in lightweight packaging, agricultural fields for improved crop production, cosmetics, detergents, and more advanced applications, among many others. During the journey of polymer science, various topics have attracted particular attention because they have promised technological advancements or new challenges relevant to the needs of the time. Each has led to intense research, development, and scientific discussion. Since the early 1970s, awareness has increasingly been drawn to the pollution arising from plastic disposal and the related material solutions. The topic has become urgent in the past few years, becoming the focus of widespread interest and debate beyond polymer science boundaries. An important question is, can we hold the material properties of polymers responsible for the plastic pollution issue? In this Perspective, we consider the role and benefits of polymers in everyday life and the increased imbalance between their use and efficient end-of-life options, which leads to critical issues such as plastic pollution. We touch on these issues, propose possible solutions, and offer a perspective on the recycling (mechanical, (bio)chemical, and organic), environmental biodegradation of polymers, and promising material design concepts. Our discussion highlights that plastic pollution is not solely a material problem but an issue that the whole of society must bear the responsibility to solve together.

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