Ocean Plastics — A Reality Check

Polluting plastics are less straws and more unfettered Third World debris.

By Onar Am, November 14, 2019, Liberty Nation

Enormous amounts of plastic released into the ocean from Third World rivers and cargo ships constitute a significant environmental problem. However, for years, scientists have been puzzled by the discrepancy between the released and measured ocean plastic. More than 98% goes missing every year, causing researchers to wonder where it goes. A new study may have an answer: It is dissolved by the sun.

Scientists from Florida Atlantic University’s Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute, East China Normal University, and Northeastern University conducted a lab experiment to study how plastic responds to direct sunlight while floating in ocean water.

Published in the Journal of Hazardous Materials, the study exposed various plastic polymers commonly found in ocean garbage to simulated sunlight while immersed in ocean water for two months. It observed degradation and dissolution at a far higher rate than anyone previously thought possible.

The consensus has been that plastic survives in nature for thousands of years. This study showed that, when exposed to sunlight, the half-life – the time it takes for half of the material to disappear – of common types of plastic was reduced to only 2.7 years. The most robust plastic had an estimated half-life of 49 years, which is still orders of magnitude faster than previously believed.

The conclusion is good news for ocean wildlife and for those concerned with the environment. However, this does not mean that the pollution of the seas is no longer a concern. Much can and should be done to alleviate the problem.