Innovation That Matters

Nets, traps, and trawls take hundreds of years to degrade | Photo source Selina Bubendorfer on Unsplash

No-trace plastic reduces marine pollution and ghost fishing


The new plastic is similar to nylon in sturdiness but can degrade under any conditions with sunlight

Spotted: Chemists at the University of Cornell have developed a polymer that degrades quickly in sunlight, but that still maintains the strength of industrial-grade plastics. The aim is to provide a no-trace plastic that can reduce marine pollution and ghost fishing.

Lost or abandoned fishing gear is a major source of the pollution present in the Pacific Garbage Patch. Nets, traps, and trawls are made of industrial-grade plastics, and thus take hundreds of years to degrade, killing marine life in the process.

The new plastic, developed by Cornell University, is called isotactic polypropylene oxide, or iPPO for short. iPPO is similar to nylon-6,6 in sturdiness and its ability to maintain stability under adverse conditions. For this reason, nylon-6,6 is used in fishing nets and ropes. However, unlike nylon-6,6, iPPO can degrade under any conditions with sunlight.

“We have created a new plastic that has the mechanical properties required by commercial fishing gear. If it eventually gets lost in the aquatic environment, this material can degrade on a realistic time scale,” said Bryce Lipinski, professor of chemistry and chemical biology at Cornell University, in a release. “This material could reduce persistent plastic accumulation in the environment.”

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