Scientists: Plastics Break Down in the Ocean…Fast

Scientists recently announced that plastic decomposes faster in the ocean than once estimated, leaching chemicals and toxins into the water.

Photo: Flickr/usoceangov

The Japan-based team collected water samples from the U.S., Europe, India, Japan and elsewhere. All the samples were found to contain derivatives of polystyrene. Photo: Flickr/usoceangov

According to National Geographic News, scientists previously believed plastics broke down at very high temperatures. However, the new study, which was presented to the American Chemistry Society, found that plastics can actually disintegrate within one year in temperatures as cool as 86 degrees.

“We found that plastic in the ocean actually decomposes as it is exposed to the rain and sun and other environmental conditions, giving rise to yet another source of global contamination that will continue into the future,” said Katsuhiko Saido, lead author of the new study, as reported by BBC News.

Researchers found that the decomposing plastics release BPA and PS oligomers into the water. While researchers maintain that it is possible for marine life to absorb the chemicals, it is unclear if it is enough exposure to cause concern about the compounds. The pollutants are more likely to be in areas with a major concentration of trash debris, such as the infamous Great Pacific Garbage Patch floating in the North Pacific Gyre.

One of the best ways to prevent waste like this from reaching the ocean is to recycle plastic materials once you’re through with them. Bags, bottles, containers and more can be recycled into new products, rather than going to waste in landfills or becoming environmental trash.

According to the American Chemistry Council’s “Too Valuable To Waste” Web site, “While litter doesn’t belong swimming in the sea, it also doesn’t always belong in the trash bin. Plastic bottles and other plastic containers are among the most easily recyclable materials, and can go on to live a very useful second life as decking, carpet, or polar fleece, just to name a few.”

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