Plastic pollution persists for billions of years, claims study

A new study has revealed just how prolonged single-use plastics’ impact on the natural environment really is.

The study, conducted by packaging supplier Rajapack, highlighted how long it takes for various plastic products to degrade.

It identified objects such as microplastics, plastic straws and polystyrene cups as among the worst culprits, with microplastics leaving a footprint for millions of years.

‘The amount of single-use plastic ending up in our oceans has increased in the last decade with dramatic and shocking results,’ says Andrew Wood, Rajapack UK’s ecommerce marketing manager.

‘We need to take action and reduce the amount of plastic we consume on a daily basis if we want to preserve the world as we know it.’

Rajapack’s study highlighted that microbeads – previously used in products such as exfoliating scrubs – never biodegrade and would therefore still be present had they existed at the time of the Big Bang, 13.8 billion years ago.

This was contrasted with similar natural products such as sugar or salt which dissolve in a matter of seconds.

The study also compared the degradation time of paper and plastic straws, and polystyrene foam cups with biodegradable cups.

It found that plastic straws also take over 200 years to degrade compared to just three days for their paper alternatives.

Polystrene also never biodegrades, while more sustainable cups would vanish within three to six months.

The study reveals the reasons why businesses are now working to reduce their reliance on single-use plastics which disintegrate into microplastics and find their way in the world’s oceans.

A 2015 study estimated that the number of microplastic particles in the ocean ranged from 15 to 51 trillion pieces, weighing between 93,000 and 236,000 metric tonnes.

The UK is currently exploring banning single-use plastics entirely, following the success of measures such as banning microbeads and introducing a 5p charge on the purchase of plastic bags.

Just last month, a report by sustainable water company Bluewater declared microplastics as the number one threat to humankind.

The report made this conclusion as microplastics contain numerous hormone-disrupting chemicals called EDCs which are then released into the natural environment.

With EDCs affecting blood pressure, fertility and immune systems, the report concluded that humanity could be wiped out in 200 years unless urgent action is taken to reduce plastic pollution.


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George Hoggarth
George Hoggarth
4 years ago

The use of the term study for what are essentially marketing ploys is disingenuous and unhelpful. I would love to know which plastics don’t degrade at all, they all do though over various timespans. Any gardener will provide much more reliable information, the plastics they use and leave exposed to the elements rarely last more than a year. Instead of this tosh, which simply acts to discredit environmental action, we do have access to some reliable and useful data. For example plastics in the sea are primarily a problem of waste disposal and around 70% can be attributed to a small number of countries that simply don’t have the resources for effective waste management.
While many of the suggestions may make people feel good, not using plastic straws isn’t a solution. What we need to do is provide the resources for countries to develop effective waste management, this wouldn’t be hugely expensive and would have a massive impact.
Microplastics are not the number one threat to anything, its unlikely they would make it into the top 100, despite claims that would require a rewrite of biology to be credible. The thing is, is that microplastics are also often quite unnecessary and are already being removed from products or banned outright.
I’m sure that Rajapacks “study” will help in promoting their own alternative packaging its a good example of how ecology has become a marketing tool and why there is so much scepticism of the claims.

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