The Impact of Sunlight on Plastic

photodegradation

Photodegradation is the process through which plastics are disintegrated into ever smaller particles by sunlight. Plastic not only accumulates rapidly on earth but also fragments almost automatically into uncontrollable molecular pieces, when it floats close to the surface of the oceans, rivers and lakes. In the process potentially toxic chemicals, such as bisphenol A (BPA), PCBs and derivatives of polystyrene, are being released into the water. BPA, for example, is known for interfering with animal's capability to reproduce. With the plastic degrading further and further, it ultimately will be consumable by any water animal and enter into the food chain. The researcher Charles Moore found concentrations of plastic particles at 334,721 pieces per km2 with a mean mass of 5.1kg per km2 on the ocean's surfaces. This concentration is seven times higher than that of zooplankton in the same layer of most of the ocean's surface.

 

While plastic degrades, it is also capable of binding other chemicals that are close to it. This increases the toxicity. These chemicals are able to cause cancer to humans, but can have even faster and more deadly impacts on smaller wildlife, according to Moore. This process that takes place at the water surface leads to tiny plastic pieces being distributed to every corner of the ocean and through every single one of its layers.

 


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