Laura Rowenczyk 1 , Alexandre Dazzi 2 , Ariane Deniset-Besseau 2 , Victoria Beltran 3 , Dominique Goudounèche 4 , Pascal Wong-Wah-Chung 5 , Olivier Boyron 6 , Matthieu George 7 , Pascale Fabre 7 , Clément Roux 1 , Anne Françoise Mingotaud 1 , Alexandra Ter Halle 1
April 07 2020
Plastic pollution has become a worldwide concern. It was demonstrated that plastic breaks down to nanoscale particles in the environment, forming so-called nanoplastics. It is important to understand their ecological impact, but their structure is not elucidated. In this original work, we characterize the microstructure of oceanic polyethylene debris and compare it to the nonweathered objects. Cross sections are analyzed by several emergent mapping techniques. We highlight deep modifications of the debris within a layer a few hundred micrometers thick. The most intense modifications are macromolecule oxidation and a considerable decrease in the molecular weight. The adsorption of organic pollutants and trace metals is also confined to this outer layer. Fragmentation of the oxidized layer of the plastic debris is the most likely source of nanoplastics. Consequently the nanoplastic chemical nature differs greatly from plastics.