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Study reveals dramatic durability of new plastic substitute when exposed to elements: ‘To mitigate the impact of microplastics on marine ecosystems’

In World
June 09, 2024

A newly developed plant-based plastic releases nine times fewer microplastics than conventional plastic when exposed to sunlight and seawater, according to Phys.org.

Researchers from the University of Portsmouth and Flanders Marine Institute (VLIZ) in Belgium tested how two types of plastic break down under extreme conditions.

They took to the journal Ecotoxicology and Environmental Safety to share their findings: a bio-based plastic made from natural feedstocks held up much better than a conventional petroleum-based plastic after 76 days of intense UV light and seawater exposure — equivalent to 24 months of sun in central Europe.

Why does this matter? Well, when plastic waste gets into the environment, it breaks down into tiny “microplastic” particles that pollute marine ecosystems and threaten ocean life.

Choosing plant-based plastics could mean less of these harmful microplastics ending up in our oceans, choking marine life, and contaminating seafood. Cleaner oceans mean healthier food chains and less risk of plastic getting into our own bodies.

The researchers tested polylactic acid (PLA), a biodegradable plant-based polymer, against polypropylene, a conventional non-biodegradable plastic that’s hard to recycle. While the PLA still released some microplastics, it was a lot less than the conventional plastic.

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“By knowing the effect of different types of plastics on the environment, we can make better choices to protect our oceans,” said one of the study authors, Professor Hom Dhakal, per Phys.org. He noted that although plant-based plastics seem like a good alternative, their microplastic release is still a concern.

But this is a step in the right direction.

As Professor Dhakal put it, “There is a clear need for continued research and proactive measures to mitigate the impact of microplastics on marine ecosystems.”

In the meantime, opting for biodegradable plant-based plastics when possible is one simple way we can all pitch in to tackle plastic pollution. Additionally, every time you choose a product in plant-based packaging over conventional plastic or switch to a plastic-free alternative, you’re helping keep our oceans a little bit cleaner and safer.

Those small everyday choices really add up.

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