The Slow Death of Plastic

#Future

Tue, Jun 22nd, 2010 12:00 by capnasty NEWS

"Plastic degradation is a ticking bomb," says Yvonne Shashoua, a conservation researcher at the National Museum of Denmark in Copenhagen. She is part of a network of European researchers racing to save our plastic heritage -- Barbie dolls included -- before it crumbles into dust. Plastics can be moulded into just about any shape imaginable, and are available in consistencies ranging from rock-hard to soft and squidgy. When it comes to longevity, though, they have a serious weak spot. In molecular terms, plastics are polymers: clusters of long, chain-like carbon-based molecules that can be shaped when warm but set firm once cooled. Over time, the chemical bonds that hold these chains together break as they are attacked by oxygen in the air or ultraviolet photons in sunlight, or are simply broken apart by ambient heat.

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