Life Cycle

A major environmental issue with plastics is their ultimate fate after disposal. Due to their low density they often end up floating in bodies of water. The currents in the Pacific Ocean have tended to gather all this plastic into a mass swirling off the coast of Alaska. Not only is this mess unsightly, but it can be harmful to aquatic life as well. Researchers are working on dealing with this "Ocean of Trash". Read on to uncover fact and fiction around this issue.

Marine Debris 101

  • National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, 7 February 2013
  • Summary: this website explains the size and problems associated with floating debris in the ocean. There is no large, floating island in the Pacific, but rather collections of "microplastics," tiny bits of polymer, that collect in higher concentrations in certain portions of the ocean due to natural currents. 
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International Business Times, 28 February 2012

Summary: In this article, the research of a team of Yale scientists (originally published in Applied and Environmental Microbiology) is highlighted. The article claims that “Plastics do not biodegrade, although, under the influence of solar UV radiations, plastics do degrade and fragment into small particles, termed microplastics.” However, some special polymers do actually biodegrade. See the SOURCES AND MANUFACTURING section to read about biodegradable and compostable plastics.