Polymers (Basel). 2022 Jun 30;14(13):2674. doi: 10.3390/polym14132674.
Microplastics (MPs) are persistent tiny pieces of plastic material in the environment that are capable of adsorbing environmental organic pollutants from their surroundings. The interaction of MPs with organic pollutants alters their environmental behavior, i.e., their adsorption, degradation and toxicity, etc. Polyethylene (PE) is the most widely used plastic material. The environmental weathering of PE results in changes to its surface chemistry, making the polymer a much better vector for organic pollutants than virgin PE. In this study, a laboratory-accelerated weathering experiment was carried out with a virgin PE film and an oxidatively degradable PE (OXO-PE) film, i.e., PE modified by the addition of a pro-oxidant catalyst. The degradation of PE and OXO-PE was assessed through Fourier transform infra-red (FTIR) spectroscopy and their wettability was measured by contact angle (CA) measurements. Their thermal properties and morphology were studied using thermogravimetric analyses (TGA) and scanning electron microscopy (SEM), respectively. Further, the adsorption of two model organic pollutants onto weathered and virgin PE was analyzed. Triclosan (TCS) and methylparaben (MeP) were chosen as model organic pollutants for the adsorption experiment due to their frequent use in the cosmetics industry, their uncontrolled release into the environment and their toxicity. The adsorption of both model pollutants onto PE and OXO-PE MP was analyzed by using gas chromatography with a flame ionization detector (GC-FID). The adsorption of MeP onto OXO-PE was higher than onto PE MPs. However, TCS showed insignificant adsorption onto PE and OXO-PE. When both pollutants were present simultaneously, the adsorption of TCS onto both PE and OXO-PE was significantly influenced by the presence of MeP. This result demonstrates that the adsorption behavior of one pollutant can be significantly altered by the presence of another pollutant. Both the effect of weathering on the adsorption of organic pollutants as well as the interaction between organic pollutants adsorbing onto MPs is highly relevant to actual MP pollution in the environment, where MPs are exposed to weathering conditions and mixtures of organic pollutants.