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Plastic's Problems Multiply as they Break Down

Plastic's Problems Multiply as they Break Down

Plastic's Problems Multiply as they Break Down

Plastic's Problems Multiply as they Break Down

Plastic Garbage. Photo: Inger Ekström.
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A large majority of the garbage in the garden is plastic. Calculations have shown that ten percent of all plastics produced globally ultimately end up in the garden. This plastic waste is subject to both chemical and mechanical degradation. The sun's UV light contributes to the decomposition, but even the waves of the sea can make the plastic sewers rub against stones in the water's edge and to the bottom of the sea or to other wastes in the bouncing waves.

The question is if there is any risk that these plastic bags will break down so much that nanoplastic plastic particles are released, called nanoplast. There is a debate in the research world about whether the degradation stops at a bit larger plastic fragment, so-called micro-plastic, or if the process can actually continue towards even smaller particles. Researchers at Lund University have now investigated this. Under experimental conditions they have exposed plastic materials for mechanical degradation.

"We have been able to show that mechanical impact on plastics generates plastic breakdown all the way down to nanospray pieces," says Tommy Cedervall, a chemistry researcher at Lund University.

Their studies relate to the ongoing major question of what happens to plastic that ends up in nature and how this plastic can affect animals and humans. Nanostorlek plastic particles represent a few million parts of a millimeter, that is, extremely small particles, so small that they can evidently penetrate the bodies of living beings. For example, in a previous study by Lund University, researchers could show that plastic particles in nanostarlek can end up in fishermen's brains and cause brain damage that is likely to cause fishermen to get disturbed behaviors. Although the study was conducted in laboratory environments, it indicates that nanoplast can have negative consequences.

A number of other studies from the research community have recently put the finger on the more noticed microplaster and its increasing spread of different organisms as well as the predicted consequences of this. There are currently intense attempts to now identify nanoplastics in nature as well.

"It's important to start charting what happens to broken plastic in nature," says Tommy Cedervall.

This article has been republished from materials provided by Lund University. Note: material may have been edited for length and content. For further information, please contact the cited source.

Nanoplastics formed during the mechanical breakdown of daily-use polystyrene products. Mikael T. Ekvall,  Martin Lundqvist,  Egle Kelpsiene,  Eimantas Šileikis,  Stefán B. Gunnarsson  and  Tommy Cedervall. Nanoscale Adv., 2019, DOI:10.1039/C8NA00210J.