Tag Archives: Plastic

Oceans’ plastic tide may be far larger than thought

Artificial fibres now go everywhere. The oceans’ plastic tide may reach their whole depth, entering marine life and people.

LONDON, 20 August, 2020 − The world’s seas could be home to a vast reservoir of hitherto unidentified pollution, the growing burden of the oceans’ plastic tide.

Up to 21 million tonnes of tiny and invisible plastic fibres could be floating in the first 200 metres of the Atlantic Ocean alone. And as British research exposed the scale of the problem, American chemists revealed that for the first time they had found microplastic fibres incorporated within human organ tissues.

A day or two later Dutch scientists demonstrated that plastic waste wasn’t simply a passive hazard to marine life: experiments showed that polluting plastic released chemicals into the stomachs of seabirds.

But first, the global problem. Oceanographers have known for decades that plastic waste had found its way into the sea: floating on the surface, it has reached the beaches of the remote Antarctic, been sampled in Arctic waters, been identified in the sediments on the sea floor and been ingested by marine creatures, from the smallest to the whale family.

Ominously, researchers warn that the sheer mass of plastic waste could multiply threefold in the decades to come. And, unlike all other forms of human pollution, plastic waste is here to stay, one day to form a permanent geological layer that will mark the Anthropocene era.

“Plastic is making its way into our bodies but very few studies have looked for it there. We don’t know whether this plastic is just a nuisance or whether it represents a human health hazard”

Scientists report in the journal Nature Communications that at 12 places along a 10,000 km north-south voyage in the Atlantic late in 2015, the waters were sampled for evidence of just three forms of plastic litter: polyethylene, polypropylene and polystyrene.

These samples were taken at depths of 10 metres below the surface, between 10 and 30 metres below what oceanographers call the mixed layer, and then 100 metres even deeper.

They then looked for fragments of the three plastics right down to the scale of 25 millionths of a metre, and began counting. They found up to 7,000 particles of all three types in a cubic metre of seawater.

Then they did the sums: people have been throwing plastic bags, packets, bottles, cups, nets and packaging away since 1950, and it has been getting into the Atlantic since 1950, with the estimated mass so far ranging from 17 million to 47 million tonnes.

The Atlantic has an average depth of 3000 metres. The discovery that the mass of plastic just in the upper 200 metres of one ocean lies somewhere between 12 and 21 million tonnes suggests that the flow of plastic into the seas everywhere may have been seriously under-estimated.

Missing measurement

“Previously, we couldn’t balance the mass of floating plastic we observed with the mass we thought had entered the ocean since 1950,” said Katsiaryna Pabortsava of the UK National Oceanography Centre, at Southampton, who led the study.

“This is because earlier studies hadn’t been measuring the concentrations of ‘invisible’ microplastic particles beneath the ocean surface. Our research is the first to have done this across the entire Atlantic, from the UK to the Falklands.”

Large plastic fragments disfigure the landscape and represent a direct threat to animals that mistake them for food.

Nobody yet knows how dangerous microplastic fibres might be, but if they are consumed by little animals they soon get concentrated in bigger predators, including the greatest predators of all: humans.

Scientists told the American Chemical Society – at a virtual meeting – that they had developed the techniques needed to identify microplastic fibres in 47 samples from donated lungs, liver, spleen and kidneys: that is, such fragments did more than simply pass through a gastrointestinal tract. They became part of human flesh.

Seabird vulnerability

“There’s evidence that plastic is making its way into our bodies but very few studies have looked for it there,” said Charles Rolsky of Arizona State University. “And at this point we don’t know whether this plastic is just a nuisance or whether it represents a human health hazard.”

Although plastic seems to be durable and indestructible, there may be evidence that it can react with biology. The journal Frontiers in Environmental Science reports that fragments of plastic, collected from beaches and incubated in natural oils from the stomachs of a seabird known as the northern fulmar – hunted for food in the Faroe Islands – eventually released chemicals.

These were agents that had been added in the process of making that plastic: among them flame retardants, stabilisers and plasticisers. Once again, there is no certainty that such releases would harm the birds, but some of these chemicals have been identified in other tests as hormone disruptors.

“I’ve been working on northern fulmars for almost 10 years,” said Susanne Kühn of Wageningen Marine Research in the Netherlands.

“As these seabirds ingest plastics regularly, and 93% of the fulmars from the North Sea have some plastic in their stomachs, it is important to understand the potential harm this could cause.” − Climate News Network

Artificial fibres now go everywhere. The oceans’ plastic tide may reach their whole depth, entering marine life and people.

LONDON, 20 August, 2020 − The world’s seas could be home to a vast reservoir of hitherto unidentified pollution, the growing burden of the oceans’ plastic tide.

Up to 21 million tonnes of tiny and invisible plastic fibres could be floating in the first 200 metres of the Atlantic Ocean alone. And as British research exposed the scale of the problem, American chemists revealed that for the first time they had found microplastic fibres incorporated within human organ tissues.

A day or two later Dutch scientists demonstrated that plastic waste wasn’t simply a passive hazard to marine life: experiments showed that polluting plastic released chemicals into the stomachs of seabirds.

But first, the global problem. Oceanographers have known for decades that plastic waste had found its way into the sea: floating on the surface, it has reached the beaches of the remote Antarctic, been sampled in Arctic waters, been identified in the sediments on the sea floor and been ingested by marine creatures, from the smallest to the whale family.

Ominously, researchers warn that the sheer mass of plastic waste could multiply threefold in the decades to come. And, unlike all other forms of human pollution, plastic waste is here to stay, one day to form a permanent geological layer that will mark the Anthropocene era.

“Plastic is making its way into our bodies but very few studies have looked for it there. We don’t know whether this plastic is just a nuisance or whether it represents a human health hazard”

Scientists report in the journal Nature Communications that at 12 places along a 10,000 km north-south voyage in the Atlantic late in 2015, the waters were sampled for evidence of just three forms of plastic litter: polyethylene, polypropylene and polystyrene.

These samples were taken at depths of 10 metres below the surface, between 10 and 30 metres below what oceanographers call the mixed layer, and then 100 metres even deeper.

They then looked for fragments of the three plastics right down to the scale of 25 millionths of a metre, and began counting. They found up to 7,000 particles of all three types in a cubic metre of seawater.

Then they did the sums: people have been throwing plastic bags, packets, bottles, cups, nets and packaging away since 1950, and it has been getting into the Atlantic since 1950, with the estimated mass so far ranging from 17 million to 47 million tonnes.

The Atlantic has an average depth of 3000 metres. The discovery that the mass of plastic just in the upper 200 metres of one ocean lies somewhere between 12 and 21 million tonnes suggests that the flow of plastic into the seas everywhere may have been seriously under-estimated.

Missing measurement

“Previously, we couldn’t balance the mass of floating plastic we observed with the mass we thought had entered the ocean since 1950,” said Katsiaryna Pabortsava of the UK National Oceanography Centre, at Southampton, who led the study.

“This is because earlier studies hadn’t been measuring the concentrations of ‘invisible’ microplastic particles beneath the ocean surface. Our research is the first to have done this across the entire Atlantic, from the UK to the Falklands.”

Large plastic fragments disfigure the landscape and represent a direct threat to animals that mistake them for food.

Nobody yet knows how dangerous microplastic fibres might be, but if they are consumed by little animals they soon get concentrated in bigger predators, including the greatest predators of all: humans.

Scientists told the American Chemical Society – at a virtual meeting – that they had developed the techniques needed to identify microplastic fibres in 47 samples from donated lungs, liver, spleen and kidneys: that is, such fragments did more than simply pass through a gastrointestinal tract. They became part of human flesh.

Seabird vulnerability

“There’s evidence that plastic is making its way into our bodies but very few studies have looked for it there,” said Charles Rolsky of Arizona State University. “And at this point we don’t know whether this plastic is just a nuisance or whether it represents a human health hazard.”

Although plastic seems to be durable and indestructible, there may be evidence that it can react with biology. The journal Frontiers in Environmental Science reports that fragments of plastic, collected from beaches and incubated in natural oils from the stomachs of a seabird known as the northern fulmar – hunted for food in the Faroe Islands – eventually released chemicals.

These were agents that had been added in the process of making that plastic: among them flame retardants, stabilisers and plasticisers. Once again, there is no certainty that such releases would harm the birds, but some of these chemicals have been identified in other tests as hormone disruptors.

“I’ve been working on northern fulmars for almost 10 years,” said Susanne Kühn of Wageningen Marine Research in the Netherlands.

“As these seabirds ingest plastics regularly, and 93% of the fulmars from the North Sea have some plastic in their stomachs, it is important to understand the potential harm this could cause.” − Climate News Network

Waste plastic cascade could triple in 20 years

In a throwaway world, some discards are forever. New research measures the crisis of the world’s waste plastic.

LONDON, 30 July, 2020 − Without immediate, sustained and concerted action worldwide, the flow of waste plastic into the world’s oceans could triple by 2040.

Right now, 11 million tonnes of throwaway bags, cups, bottles, cables, netting, and other products made of almost indestructible polymers get into the sea each year.

And in the next 20 years, this tide of detritus could almost triple to 29 million tonnes, according to new research in the journal Science. This works out at nearly 50kg of plastic on every metre of coastline worldwide.

And because plastic may fragment but never degrade or decompose, the message is that by 2040 the measure of plastic in the oceans would equal the mass of three million blue whales.

The choice of the whale as indicator is not arbitrary. Discarded plastic has become a global hazard to ecosystems worldwide.

“The plastic crisis is solvable. It took a generation to create this challenge; we can solve it in one generation”

It has been found in all oceans, in lakes, in rivers, in soils and sediments, in the atmosphere and in the tissues of 700 marine species including whales, and in 50 freshwater species. It fouls beaches, blocks drains, and provides a substrate and breeding surface for the carriers of disease.

It is also expensive. At a very conservative estimate the economic costs of plastic pollution on tourism, fishing and shipping reach US$13bn (£10bn) a year. And plastic particles have entered the human food chain, though nobody can yet be certain of the impact of this.

The researchers modelled the flow of plastic and its accumulation in the environment and tested the consequences under six scenarios. These include one in which the world simply goes on making single-use plastic products and carelessly discarding them, and one in which the world’s plastics systems undergo complete overhaul, including every aspect of production, collection, consumption and disposal.

So far, on the evidence of government promises, the flow is likely to be reduced by only 7% by 2040.

Offering an opportunity

The scientists also identified eight things that could together reduce the flow of plastics into the sea by 80% in the next 20 years. That would still see five million tonnes each year getting into the oceans.

And the researchers warn that, even if every nation invested in concerted and immediate action, by 2040 at least 710 million tonnes of the stuff will have worked its way into the world’s wetlands, soils, estuaries, beaches and seas.

The report presents a calamity in the making, but one that could also be seen as an opportunity.

“Our results indicate that the plastic crisis is solvable. It took a generation to create this challenge; this report shows we can solve it in one generation,” said Martin Stuchtey, of the University of Innsbruck in Austria, one of the authors.

“We have today all the solutions required to stem plastic flows by more than 80%. What we now need is the industry and government resolve to do so.” − Climate News Network

In a throwaway world, some discards are forever. New research measures the crisis of the world’s waste plastic.

LONDON, 30 July, 2020 − Without immediate, sustained and concerted action worldwide, the flow of waste plastic into the world’s oceans could triple by 2040.

Right now, 11 million tonnes of throwaway bags, cups, bottles, cables, netting, and other products made of almost indestructible polymers get into the sea each year.

And in the next 20 years, this tide of detritus could almost triple to 29 million tonnes, according to new research in the journal Science. This works out at nearly 50kg of plastic on every metre of coastline worldwide.

And because plastic may fragment but never degrade or decompose, the message is that by 2040 the measure of plastic in the oceans would equal the mass of three million blue whales.

The choice of the whale as indicator is not arbitrary. Discarded plastic has become a global hazard to ecosystems worldwide.

“The plastic crisis is solvable. It took a generation to create this challenge; we can solve it in one generation”

It has been found in all oceans, in lakes, in rivers, in soils and sediments, in the atmosphere and in the tissues of 700 marine species including whales, and in 50 freshwater species. It fouls beaches, blocks drains, and provides a substrate and breeding surface for the carriers of disease.

It is also expensive. At a very conservative estimate the economic costs of plastic pollution on tourism, fishing and shipping reach US$13bn (£10bn) a year. And plastic particles have entered the human food chain, though nobody can yet be certain of the impact of this.

The researchers modelled the flow of plastic and its accumulation in the environment and tested the consequences under six scenarios. These include one in which the world simply goes on making single-use plastic products and carelessly discarding them, and one in which the world’s plastics systems undergo complete overhaul, including every aspect of production, collection, consumption and disposal.

So far, on the evidence of government promises, the flow is likely to be reduced by only 7% by 2040.

Offering an opportunity

The scientists also identified eight things that could together reduce the flow of plastics into the sea by 80% in the next 20 years. That would still see five million tonnes each year getting into the oceans.

And the researchers warn that, even if every nation invested in concerted and immediate action, by 2040 at least 710 million tonnes of the stuff will have worked its way into the world’s wetlands, soils, estuaries, beaches and seas.

The report presents a calamity in the making, but one that could also be seen as an opportunity.

“Our results indicate that the plastic crisis is solvable. It took a generation to create this challenge; this report shows we can solve it in one generation,” said Martin Stuchtey, of the University of Innsbruck in Austria, one of the authors.

“We have today all the solutions required to stem plastic flows by more than 80%. What we now need is the industry and government resolve to do so.” − Climate News Network

World wilts beneath weight of e-waste and plastic

It’s the throwaway society: e-waste outweighs Europe’s population, plastic waste often ends in the sea. Recycling rates offer little hope.

LONDON, 13 July, 2020 – Spoil heaps, landfill sites, incinerators and scrapyards of the world are bursting with a tide of e-waste, a discarded and growing sea of computers, cellphones and household appliances, according to a new international survey.

In 2019 businesses, industries and households threw away nearly 54 million tonnes of electronic waste: that is, devices – from computers and cellphones to refrigerators and vacuum cleaners – that need a power plug or a battery. And this detritus included an estimated US$57bn in gold, silver, copper, platinum and other expensive metals.

Less than 18% of this costly material went for recycling. In a separate study, Irish scientists have found that much of the plastic waste collected in Europe and exported for recycling ends up in the oceans: in 2017 the burden of polyethylene tipped into the seas off south-east Asia could have totalled more than 180,000 tonnes.

Discarded electronic gear – e-waste – is now the world’s fastest-growing waste stream, according to the latest report from a UN monitoring consortium.

Last year’s 53.6 million tonnes of it is a new record and represents a rise of more than one-fifth in the last five years. By 2030, this count of thrown-away electrically-powered hardware could hit 74 million tonnes annually.

“True recycling rates may deviate significantly from rates reported by municipalities and countries where the waste originates”

The total for 2019 alone was enough to outweigh all the adults in Europe; and its mass can be imagined as a line of 350 cruise ships, each the size of the Queen Mary 2, stretching for 125 kilometres. It amounted to 7.3 kilogrammes for every human on Earth.

This waste added directly to global warming. Greenhouse gases equivalent to an estimated 98 million tonnes of carbon dioxide were released by unwanted refrigerators and air conditioners.

E-waste also constitutes a health hazard: at least 50 tonnes of toxic mercury seeped into the environment from thrown-away monitors, printed circuit boards, fluorescent lights and so on.

Right now, only 78 nations have legislation or national policies to deal with e-waste. Electrically-powered devices are still only a small fraction of the entire human technosphere: the sum of things humans have manufactured, fashioned or simply built from minerals over the last 10,000 years has been estimated at 30 trillion tonnes.

But electronic waste is already a significant cost and possibly an important potential resource. Another – new and entirely separate – study of metal sources on the planet estimates that in the next 25 years the global demand for copper, lead, zinc and nickel is likely to exceed the total produced so far in all human history.

Recycling goes overboard

European Union members and partner countries – the UK, Switzerland and Norway – have developed the infrastructure to manage another menacing discard, plastic waste, but 46% of this is exported out of the country of origin for recycling in countries with poor records of waste management, and a high proportion ends up in the oceans.

Plastic debris has been found on the deep seabed, on the beaches of desolate Antarctic islands, in the north polar ice, and in the tissues of sea creatures from sardines to whales.

Most of this is directly and deliberately discarded. But even the waste intended for recycling gets into the oceans. Researchers report in the journal Environment International that they made estimates of the fate of Europe’s exported waste in 2017.

They think up to 7% of all exported polyethylene – the commonest plastic in Europe – found its way to the oceans: at the very least 32,115 tonnes were tipped into the sea, and at the most 180,558 tonnes.

“This study suggests that true recycling rates may deviate significantly from rates reported by municipalities and countries where the waste originates,” said one of the authors, David Styles of the University of Limerick in Eire and the National University of Ireland in Galway.

“In fact, our study found 31% of the exported plastic wasn’t actually recycled at all.” – Climate News Network

It’s the throwaway society: e-waste outweighs Europe’s population, plastic waste often ends in the sea. Recycling rates offer little hope.

LONDON, 13 July, 2020 – Spoil heaps, landfill sites, incinerators and scrapyards of the world are bursting with a tide of e-waste, a discarded and growing sea of computers, cellphones and household appliances, according to a new international survey.

In 2019 businesses, industries and households threw away nearly 54 million tonnes of electronic waste: that is, devices – from computers and cellphones to refrigerators and vacuum cleaners – that need a power plug or a battery. And this detritus included an estimated US$57bn in gold, silver, copper, platinum and other expensive metals.

Less than 18% of this costly material went for recycling. In a separate study, Irish scientists have found that much of the plastic waste collected in Europe and exported for recycling ends up in the oceans: in 2017 the burden of polyethylene tipped into the seas off south-east Asia could have totalled more than 180,000 tonnes.

Discarded electronic gear – e-waste – is now the world’s fastest-growing waste stream, according to the latest report from a UN monitoring consortium.

Last year’s 53.6 million tonnes of it is a new record and represents a rise of more than one-fifth in the last five years. By 2030, this count of thrown-away electrically-powered hardware could hit 74 million tonnes annually.

“True recycling rates may deviate significantly from rates reported by municipalities and countries where the waste originates”

The total for 2019 alone was enough to outweigh all the adults in Europe; and its mass can be imagined as a line of 350 cruise ships, each the size of the Queen Mary 2, stretching for 125 kilometres. It amounted to 7.3 kilogrammes for every human on Earth.

This waste added directly to global warming. Greenhouse gases equivalent to an estimated 98 million tonnes of carbon dioxide were released by unwanted refrigerators and air conditioners.

E-waste also constitutes a health hazard: at least 50 tonnes of toxic mercury seeped into the environment from thrown-away monitors, printed circuit boards, fluorescent lights and so on.

Right now, only 78 nations have legislation or national policies to deal with e-waste. Electrically-powered devices are still only a small fraction of the entire human technosphere: the sum of things humans have manufactured, fashioned or simply built from minerals over the last 10,000 years has been estimated at 30 trillion tonnes.

But electronic waste is already a significant cost and possibly an important potential resource. Another – new and entirely separate – study of metal sources on the planet estimates that in the next 25 years the global demand for copper, lead, zinc and nickel is likely to exceed the total produced so far in all human history.

Recycling goes overboard

European Union members and partner countries – the UK, Switzerland and Norway – have developed the infrastructure to manage another menacing discard, plastic waste, but 46% of this is exported out of the country of origin for recycling in countries with poor records of waste management, and a high proportion ends up in the oceans.

Plastic debris has been found on the deep seabed, on the beaches of desolate Antarctic islands, in the north polar ice, and in the tissues of sea creatures from sardines to whales.

Most of this is directly and deliberately discarded. But even the waste intended for recycling gets into the oceans. Researchers report in the journal Environment International that they made estimates of the fate of Europe’s exported waste in 2017.

They think up to 7% of all exported polyethylene – the commonest plastic in Europe – found its way to the oceans: at the very least 32,115 tonnes were tipped into the sea, and at the most 180,558 tonnes.

“This study suggests that true recycling rates may deviate significantly from rates reported by municipalities and countries where the waste originates,” said one of the authors, David Styles of the University of Limerick in Eire and the National University of Ireland in Galway.

“In fact, our study found 31% of the exported plastic wasn’t actually recycled at all.” – Climate News Network

Waste plastic can find a useful new life

Here’s what to do with all that waste plastic, the scrap, waste and flotsam: turn it back into brand-new plastic and use it again, and again.

LONDON, 1 November, 2019 – Swedish scientists say they have found a way to recycle plastic perfectly: their new process can turn any waste plastic back into new plastic of identical quality – and recover all of it.

The process can convert thrown-away plastic bottles, cups, bags, buckets and other detritus into a gas and, from that, fashion new materials. That is, complete recycling would be possible from existing, no-longer-wanted materials rather than petrochemical feedstock.

In 2015, the world generated more than 320 million tonnes of polystyrene, polyvinyl chloride, polyethylene and other polymers. Perhaps 200 million tonnes was neither incinerated nor recycled. As much as 12 million tonnes may have escaped into the oceans. No more than 14% was collected for recovery. Only 2% could be converted to a high-quality product, and 8% became plastic of lower quality. Around 4% was lost altogether.

“We should not forget that plastic is a fantastic material – it gives us products that we could otherwise only dream of. The problem is that it is manufactured at such low cost that it has been cheaper to produce new plastics from oil and fossil gas than reusing plastic waste,” said Henrik Thunman of Chalmers University of Technology in Gothenburg, who with colleagues developed a way of “cracking” plastic with steam.

“Through finding the right temperature – which is around 850°C – and the right heating rate and residence time, we have been able to demonstrate the proposed method at a scale where we can turn 200kg of plastic waste an hour into a useful gas mixture. This can then be recycled at the molecular level to become new plastic materials of virgin quality.”

“Circular use would help give used plastics a true value, and thus an economic impetus for collecting it anywhere on Earth”

Professor Thunman and his fellow researchers report in the journal Sustainable Materials and Technologies that their process could be designed and integrated into existing petrochemical plants, and scaled up a hundredfold or more, ultimately to transform them into tomorrow’s recycling refineries.

It would work for all plastic waste, including detritus swept up by the tide, or unearthed from landfill.

Plastic is likely to be the enduring legacy of human occupation of the planet. Long after the species is extinguished, seemingly indestructible polymer evidence will endure in the rock strata to mark the Anthropocene, the human epoch.

Plastic waste pollution has been identified as a growing international  challenge and the polymers, sometimes in microparticle form, are finding their way to every part of the planet, and into the tissues of the great marine animals.

Creating a market

About 40% of global plastic waste in 2015 was collected in some form for incineration; about 60% was “disposed of”. Around 1% leaked into the natural world, to add to the threat to living things.

The latest demonstration of laboratory ingenuity from researchers determined to confront the Anthropocene challenge promises the possibility of a circular economy for the plastic that exists already.

“Circular use would help give used plastics a true value, and thus an economic impetus for collecting it anywhere on Earth,” said Professor Thunman.

“In turn, this would help minimise the release of plastic into nature, and create a market for collection of plastic that has already polluted the natural environment.” – Climate News Network

Here’s what to do with all that waste plastic, the scrap, waste and flotsam: turn it back into brand-new plastic and use it again, and again.

LONDON, 1 November, 2019 – Swedish scientists say they have found a way to recycle plastic perfectly: their new process can turn any waste plastic back into new plastic of identical quality – and recover all of it.

The process can convert thrown-away plastic bottles, cups, bags, buckets and other detritus into a gas and, from that, fashion new materials. That is, complete recycling would be possible from existing, no-longer-wanted materials rather than petrochemical feedstock.

In 2015, the world generated more than 320 million tonnes of polystyrene, polyvinyl chloride, polyethylene and other polymers. Perhaps 200 million tonnes was neither incinerated nor recycled. As much as 12 million tonnes may have escaped into the oceans. No more than 14% was collected for recovery. Only 2% could be converted to a high-quality product, and 8% became plastic of lower quality. Around 4% was lost altogether.

“We should not forget that plastic is a fantastic material – it gives us products that we could otherwise only dream of. The problem is that it is manufactured at such low cost that it has been cheaper to produce new plastics from oil and fossil gas than reusing plastic waste,” said Henrik Thunman of Chalmers University of Technology in Gothenburg, who with colleagues developed a way of “cracking” plastic with steam.

“Through finding the right temperature – which is around 850°C – and the right heating rate and residence time, we have been able to demonstrate the proposed method at a scale where we can turn 200kg of plastic waste an hour into a useful gas mixture. This can then be recycled at the molecular level to become new plastic materials of virgin quality.”

“Circular use would help give used plastics a true value, and thus an economic impetus for collecting it anywhere on Earth”

Professor Thunman and his fellow researchers report in the journal Sustainable Materials and Technologies that their process could be designed and integrated into existing petrochemical plants, and scaled up a hundredfold or more, ultimately to transform them into tomorrow’s recycling refineries.

It would work for all plastic waste, including detritus swept up by the tide, or unearthed from landfill.

Plastic is likely to be the enduring legacy of human occupation of the planet. Long after the species is extinguished, seemingly indestructible polymer evidence will endure in the rock strata to mark the Anthropocene, the human epoch.

Plastic waste pollution has been identified as a growing international  challenge and the polymers, sometimes in microparticle form, are finding their way to every part of the planet, and into the tissues of the great marine animals.

Creating a market

About 40% of global plastic waste in 2015 was collected in some form for incineration; about 60% was “disposed of”. Around 1% leaked into the natural world, to add to the threat to living things.

The latest demonstration of laboratory ingenuity from researchers determined to confront the Anthropocene challenge promises the possibility of a circular economy for the plastic that exists already.

“Circular use would help give used plastics a true value, and thus an economic impetus for collecting it anywhere on Earth,” said Professor Thunman.

“In turn, this would help minimise the release of plastic into nature, and create a market for collection of plastic that has already polluted the natural environment.” – Climate News Network