Designed to degrade

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Science  17 Nov 2017:
Vol. 358, Issue 6365, pp. 872-873
DOI: 10.1126/science.aap8115

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Around 50 years ago, interest arose in making plastics that can degrade in the environment (1). Since then, a stream of research efforts has chased the dream of environmentally friendly materials that disappear without leaving behind fragments or harmful products. Such environmentally degradable plastics are, however, difficult to produce in practice. Durability is one of the requirements for plastic in most technical applications, whereas degradability is necessary for recycling in nature. Although advances are being made in developing degradable materials with suitable properties for particular applications, it is crucial that they are seen as part of a range of approaches and that degradation will always require particular conditions that depend on the specific material and its chemical and physical structure and composition.