Sunlight can Break Plastic Waste into Tens of Thousands of Organic Compounds

When you leave the plastic bag beneath the sunlight for a very long time, it crumbles into a powdery mess with time. Earlier, it was thought that sunlight can only fragment particles in the marine environment but now scientists have learned that sunlight can also transforms plastic into a polymer.

A recent study by researchers of Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, published in Environmental Science & Technology, finds that the chemical reaction between sunlight and plastic is not only capable of breaking plastics down into micro-fragments but can also transform it into polymer-, dissolved-, and gas-phased organic molecules.

The process isn’t slow, which means, within 100 hours the experiment shows its result with a notable mix of soluble organic carbon compounds.

Though plastic bag use is limited in many countries, still we can find retailers who are eager to serve the purchase in a single-use plastic bag. And these bags rarely get the way to the recycling plant as mostly they are dumped in a landfill. Mostly, these plastic bags are disposed of in water and putting marine life at risk. Looking at the data every year 640,000 tonnes of garbage are dumped in oceans or other water bodies.

This chuck ultimately harms the birds, animals, and marine life. But, the study of fragmentation is a ray of hope as this study has mostly remained unclear for a long time. Studies are being conducted to check whether the plastic can be transformed into new polymers or small particles via sunlight so that they are easy to dissolve.

How was the Research Conducted?

Sunlight can Break Plastic Waste

Polyethylene bags samples were collected from commercial enterprises such as Target and Walmart, and a bag from a CVS. These bags were then bifurcated as organic and metal content and spectral qualities.

Swatches from the bags were then placed in sterilized beakers that were filled with an ionized solution to simulate immersion in seawater.

For six days half of the beakers went into a dark and the remaining were left for five days in a temperature-controlled chamber to note the effect of sunlight. The samples left in the dark delivered a tiny amount of suspended organic compounds into the salty solution and the other one had new chemicals.

It was the CVS bags that showed greater results between the dark container and the other hat that was exposed to light.

The constituents of the plastic soup had tens of thousands of organic compounds adjourned in it, floating on the surface of the ocean in the glare of the sun. And this process is multiple times more complex than what it was thought to be and identified new toxins that were never an issue.

“It’s extraordinary to imagine that sunlight can break down plastic, which is actually one composite that typically has some additives mixed in, into tens of thousands of composite materials that dissolve in water,” says chemist Collin Ward.

“We need to be evaluating not only about the predestination and impacts of the fundamental plastics that get leaked into the environment but also about the transmutation of those materials,” Ward added.

The big question is how they work in the environment. But before learning that we need to get away from these piles of plastic.


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