Our Stream Watch group were fortunate to have a on site visit from Professor Banati Leader of the ANSTO Plastics project.
The increased presence of certain degradable plastics, including biodegradable plastics, is a challenge for the recycling of plastics more generally since the various plastics can be difficult to sort. Contamination of the waste stream with similar appearing but non-recyclable material by many seen as the Achilles heel of recycling. A significant portion of plastic waste ends up in our oceans.
Professor Banati said the team’s observations were changing perceptions about how the increased degradability of a material, such as plastic, may help to reduce the litter problem but, if not properly managed, might cause a contamination problem in the future.
Recent research shows that this is problematic due to the chemicals contained within plastics, as well as the pollutants that plastic attract once they are in the marine environment. For more see Guardian Dec 2014
ANSTO contributes to this collaborative research effort by using nuclear technologies to measure minute quantities of material such as the contaminants potentially leaching or being absorbed by degrading plastic material. ANSTO has national and international collaborations current work is being undertaken with Monash University, UTAS and CSIRO.
In a new study, published Dec 2014 by the journal Royal Society Open Science, a British scientist reports the riddle of the “missing” plastic as solved: It sits in deep waters, broken down into tiny fibers and embedded in the sediment of the most remote places on Earth.
The discovery of microplastic in such remote marine habitats raises new questions about the potential for plastic debris to contaminate the food chain. Scientists have already documented that fish, birds, turtles, and other marine animals eat plastic. Thompson and his team found an even greater accumulation of plastic than previously suspected. The more plastic there is, he says, the more potential for toxicity to marine life.
Read more on the National Geographic article – Where has all the (Sea Trash) Plastic Gone