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Photodegradation is degradation of a photodegradable molecule caused by the absorption of photons, particularly those wavelengths found in sunlight, such as infrared radiation, visible light, and ultraviolet light. However, other forms of electromagnetic radiation can cause photodegradation. Photodegradation includes photodissociation, the breakup of molecules into smaller pieces by photons. It also includes the change of a molecule's shape to make it irreversibly altered, such as the denaturing of proteins, and the addition of other atoms or molecules. A common photodegradation reaction is oxidation. This type of photodegradation is used by some drinking water and wastewater facilities to destroy pollutants. Photodegradation in the environment is part of the process by which ambergris evolves from its fatty precursor.

The United States federal standard for testing plastic for photodegradation is 40 CFR Ch. I (7–1–03 Edition)PART 238

Photodegradation also destroys paintings and other artifacts.


Torkan Packaging in W.A. was the first company to introduce Photodegradable plastic shopping bags in Australia in the 1980s.

Six-pack soda can rings have been photodegradable LDPE plastic since the 1990s.