An experimental and theoretical study of the erosion of semi-crystalline polymers and the subsequent generation of microparticles
The increase of plastics and microplastics in the environment is a major environmental challenge. Still, little is known about the degradation kinetics of macroplastics into smaller particles, under the joint actions of micro-organisms and physico-chemical factors, like UV or mechanical constraints. In order to gain insight into (bio)-degradation in various media, we perform accelerated erosion experiments by using a well-known enzymatic system. We show that the microstructure of semi-crystalline polymers plays a crucial role in the pattern formation at their surface. For the first time, the release of fragments of micrometric size is evidenced, through a mechanism that does not involve fracture propagation. A geometric erosion model allows a quantitative understanding of erosion rates and surface patterns, and provides a critical heterogeneity size, parting two types of behavior: spherulites either released, or eroded in situ. This new geometric approach could constitute a useful tool to predict the erosion kinetics and micro-particle generation in various media.