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The unnoticed but not well-known effect in recycling plastics

The breakdown of plastics can produce microplastics that pollute the environment and end into water or air, as one study has discovered.

Instead of assisting in tackling the huge plastic waste issue, Recycling could be accelerating an environmental issue that is causing concern, which is microplastic pollution.

An upcoming research study that examined recycling facilities located in the United Kingdom suggests that anywhere between 6 and thirteen percent of plastics processed HTML1could be released into the water or air as microplastics, ubiquitous, tiny particles less than five millimeters. These can be found in all sorts of places in the globe, from Antarctic glaciers to within human bodies.

“This is such a big gap that nobody’s even considered, let alone actually really researched,” said Erina Brown, a plastics scientist who was the lead researcher during her time in the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow, Scotland.

The research raises fears that recycling isn’t the most effective solution to the problem of plastic pollution as people believe. A small portion of plastic used is recycled. Around nine percent globally and around 5-6 percent within the United States, according to recent estimates.

This study took place in a single recycling facility, however experts warn that its findings should not be taken lightly.

“It’s a very credible study,” said Judith Enck, a former senior Environmental Protection Agency official under the presidency of Barack Obama who now heads the Beyond Plastics advocacy group. She was not part of the study. “It’s only one facility, but it raises troubling issues, and it should inspire environmental regulatory agencies to replicate the study at other plastic recycling facilities.”

What is the process of recycling plastic?

Although there are numerous kinds of plastic, some experts claim that only products made of the material are. 1 and 2 can be efficiently recycled throughout the United States. In recycling facilities, the plastic waste is usually sorted, cleaned, cut up, or shred into pieces, then melted and then remolded.

It’s not surprising that this process could yield microplastics, Enck explained. “The way plastic recycling facilities operate, there’s a lot of mechanical friction and abrasion,” she explained.

Brown and his colleagues analyzed the pieces of plastic that were discovered in the wastewater produced by the facility that is not named. They calculated that it could generate about 6.5 millions of pounds (microplastic) each year which is about 13 percent of of plastic it receives every year.

Researchers also discovered large levels of microplastics in the air they tested in the facility, Brown said.

Will filters help?

The study also examined the wastewater of the facility after the filters were put in place. After filtering, the amount of microplastics produced fell to around 3 million pounds annually.

Despite the presence of filters in the plant, they concluded that there was as much as 75 billion particles of plastic per square meter in the wastewater of the facility. The majority of microparticles were less than 10 micrometers, which is about the size of the human red blood cell, More than 80 percent smaller than five millimeters, Brown said.

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Jane S. King

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