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Plastic Recycling May 10, 2023 12:37:35 PM

Plastic Debris Dropped Into the Ocean Can Travel Hundreds of Miles While Sinking

Paul Ploumis
ScrapMonster Author
The prevailing assumption has been that plastic falls straight down from the surface.

Plastic Debris Dropped Into the Ocean Can Travel Hundreds of Miles While Sinking

SEATTLE (Scrap Monster): Floating islands of garbage composed of discarded or drifting plastic debris on the ocean’s surface are a common and visible reminder of the world’s plastic pollution problem. However, researchers believe that a significant portion of plastic waste might be sinking deeper into the ocean, making it harder to spot and understand the full scope of the issue. 

A new study published in ACS’ Environmental Science & Technology provides insight into the behavior of lightweight plastic particles in the Mediterranean Sea, suggesting that they can drift farther underwater than previously thought.

 The ocean’s plastic pollution crisis is not limited to unsightly floating garbage patches. Animals can become trapped in or mistakenly consume plastic debris, and as the waste breaks down in the water, it can release harmful organic pollutants. 

While researchers have found lightweight plastic particles, typically measuring 5 millimeters or less, as deep as half a mile below the ocean’s surface, there is still much to learn about the behavior of sinking plastic. 

The prevailing assumption has been that plastic falls straight down from the surface. However, Alberto Baudena and his colleagues believed that lightweight plastic might not follow such a direct path.

To challenge this assumption, Baudena’s team employed an advanced computer model designed to track plastic at sea. They incorporated extensive data previously collected on floating plastic pollution in the Mediterranean Sea into their model. By simulating nearly 7.7 million bits of plastic distributed across the sea, they were able to track the virtual paths of these particles to depths as great as half a mile.

The researchers’ findings suggest that the slower the plastic particles sink, the farther they are carried from their points of origin by ocean currents. The slowest particles traveled an average of roughly 175 miles laterally. 

 Comparing their simulation results with limited observational data on plastic distribution underwater, the team found their findings to be in agreement with the available data in the Mediterranean Sea.

Furthermore, their simulations revealed that ocean currents may push plastic waste toward coastal areas, with only about 20% of pollution near coasts originating from the nearest country. 

The long journeys these plastic particles undertake imply that they have an increased potential to interact with and harm marine life.

 This study, funded by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, the Tara Expeditions Foundation, and the Albert II Monaco Foundation, sheds light on the behavior of lightweight plastic particles in the ocean and highlights the need for further research and action to combat the plastic pollution crisis.

Courtesy: www.earth.com

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