An ideal chemical product would:
· Perform the intended task effectively
· Produce little or no side effects in any non-intended target
· Break down, along with any residues of its activity, over a reasonably short time scale
· Produce no harmful substances when it breaks down
Design for Degradation
Some organic chemicals degrade only very slowly, and so the level in the environment can rise steadily. These are the persistent organic pollutants (or "POPs"). In contrast, all chemicals produced in nature are 100% degradable, and understanding why this is the case is an important part of being able to design synthetic degradable materials.
For example, natural polymers such as carbohydrates, proteins and nucleic acids usually have oxygen or nitrogen atoms in the polymer backbone. If these atoms are included in synthetic polymers, the material is more easily degraded. A carbon-oxygen double bond (carbonyl group) absorbs light energy, and so can make a substance photodegradable.
These features can be seen in the structures of some degradable polymers that are already in use.
Some Degradable Polymers