"Recycling has been promoted by the plastics industry as a key solution to the
growing problem of plastic waste. But a study has found recycling itself could
be releasing huge quantities of microplastics.
An international team of scientists sampled wastewater from a state-of-the-art
recycling plant at an undisclosed location in the UK. They found that the
microplastics released in the water amounted to 13% of the plastic processed.
The facility could be releasing up to 75bn plastic particles in each cubic
metre of wastewater, they estimated.
“I was incredibly shocked,” said Erina Brown, the lead researcher of the study,
conducted at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow. “It’s scary because
recycling has been designed in order to reduce the problem and to protect the
environment. This is a huge problem we’re creating.”
The researchers tested the water before and after the plant installed a water
filtration system and found the filter reduced the concentration of
microplastics from 13% of the plastic processed to 6%.
The estimate of 75bn particles a cubic metre is for a plant with a filter
installed. A majority of the particles were smaller than 10 microns, about the
diameter of a human red blood cell, with more than 80% smaller than five
microns, Brown said.
Microplastics, usually considered to be any particle of plastic measuring less
than 5mm, have been found everywhere from freshly fallen snow in Antarctica to
the depths of the ocean, and can be toxic for animals and plants.
The results also revealed high levels of microplastics in the air around the
recycling facility, with 61% of the particles less than 10 microns in size.
Particulate matter less than 10 microns has been linked to human illness.
The facility was a “best case scenario”, Brown said, given that it had made
efforts to install water filtration while many other recycling plants may not.
“An important consideration is what other plants globally are emitting,” she
said. “This is something we really need to find out.”"
*** Xanni ***
Chief Scientist, Xanadu
Partner, Glass Wings
Manager, Serious Cybernetics