Microplastic generation in the marine environment through degradation and fragmentation
Perryman, Miriam Elaine
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Plastic use has become requisite in our global economy; as population continues to increase, so too, will plastic production. At its end-of-life, some amount of plastic is mismanaged and ends up in the ocean. Once there, various environmental stresses eventually fragment plastic into microplastic pieces, now ubiquitous in the marine environment. Microplastics pose a serious threat to marine biota and possibly humans. Though the general mechanisms of microplastic formation are known, the rate and extent is not. Currently, no standard methodology for testing the formation of microplastic exists. We developed a replicable and flexible methodology for testing the formation of microplastics. We used this methodology to test the effects of UV, thermal, and mechanical stress on various types of plastic. We tested for fragmentation by measuring weight and size distribution, and looked for signs of degraded plastic using Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy. Though our results did not find any signs of fragmentation, we did see degradation. Additionally, we established a sound methodology and provided a benchmark for additional studies.