Predicting the polymer-specific fate of aquatic plastic litter
The amount of plastic litter in in the environment is growing rapidly. Its presence poses a severe threat to marine and freshwater life. However, at the heart of our knowledge of plastic litter lies a black hole. The location of 99 per cent or more of the plastic litter thought to be in the ocean is unknown. This makes it difficult to propose effective solutions for the problems associated with plastic litter.
The main goal of this project is to predict what happens to different types of plastic litter in the environment. To achieve this, the degradation of commonly used plastics will be monitored under controlled laboratory conditions. Experimental methods to produce tiny fragments of plastics made from different polymers will be developed. These will be used to simulate their behaviour in the environment. For example, how quickly they fragment and sink under different conditions and how easily they transfer from water to river sediments.
For comparison, plastics which are thought to degrade in a more environmentally-sustainable fashion will also be monitored. Results from these tests will be used to predict the fate of different types of plastics in the environment. They will also allow an assessment of the contribution that promoting sustainable types of plastics can make to solving the problem of plastic litter in the environment.
Aims and objectives
The overall aim of this project is to predict the environmental fate of representative types of plastic litter. This will be achieved through a number of specific and sequential objectives, including the following:
- Determine standardised protocols to quantify the fragmentation of plastic litter under controlled laboratory conditions
- Quantify the degradation of representative types of plastic litter under controlled laboratory conditions
- Optimise and/or derive mathematical equations which accurately predict the environmental fate of different polymers
- Assess the role that sustainable polymer formulations can play in reducing the harmful impacts of plastic litter.