Researchers at the Lund University have made new discoveries that plastic waste in the environment degenerates into nano-sized particles called ‘nanoplastics’. In order to mimic the degradation of plastic in the ocean, the researcher subjected takeaway coffee cup lids to mechanical breakdown.
Most of the marine debris is plastic and calculations have revealed that around 10 percent of all plastic produced worldwide ends up in the sea. Such plastic waste are exposed to chemical as well as mechanical degradation. Sea waves and UV rays of the sun contribute to plastic degradation, which causes the waste to grind against other debris, rocks or stones on edge of the sea, or against the seafloor.
There is considerable risk that the plastic waste disintegrates to an extreme extent that nanoparticles are released. Research communities around the world have been working to find whether plastic degradation process ceases at larger fragments called microplastics or continues to create even smaller fragments.
In the new study, researchers at the Lund University have explored the issue by putting plastic material through mechanical degradation under laboratory conditions. According to chemistry researcher Tommy Cedervall, it was determined that mechanical effect on the plastic causes disintegration of plastic to nano-sized fragments.
The main objective of the study was to demonstrate the effects of more concerning issues of what actually happens to plastic in the environment and what are its impact on both animals and humans, the researchers said. Size of the nanoplastics are a few millionths of a millimeter, extremely tiny that they have been shown to reach far into the bodies of living organisms.
In a previous study, researchers at the Lund University have shown that plastic nano-sized particles can enter fish’s brain and cause damage which disturbs its behavior. Although the study was carried out under experimental conditions, it suggests that nanoplastics can lead to ill consequences.
Other research studies from different research community are emphasizing on the microplastics and their growing distribution among living organisms and making more attempts to detect nanoplastics in the environment. It is important to start mapping what happens to plastic when it disintegrates in the nature, Cedervall said.