ISTC Sustainability Seminar: Microplastics in the Aquatic Environment

March 16, 2017 , noon-1pm CST
In person at the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center (1 E. Hazelwood Dr., Champaign) or online at https://attendee.gotowebinar.com/register/5431323938809870850

Presented by Sarah A. Zack – Pollution Prevention Extension Specialist, Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant (IISG) and University of Illinois Extension.

The ecosystem impact of microplastics, a type of land-based marine debris that includes particles less than 5 millimeters in size, is of growing interest in the Great Lakes and other inland waters. Microplastic pollution in freshwater systems is still an emerging science and researchers have just begun to describe its scope, abundance, and distribution. There is still much to be learned about its long-term effects, including impacts to aquatic food webs. Since 2012, Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant (IISG) has been working to conduct and fund research and educate the public about microplastic pollution. IISG is dedicated to supporting continued research on emerging contaminants such as microplastics, and recognizes that there is a need for more information to determine the long-term effects of this pollution on Midwestern lakes and rivers. This seminar will discuss freshwater microplastic sources and types, relevant chemical and physical properties, and potential impacts, as well as provide an overview of the work done by IISG to address this emerging contaminant.

What Will It Take To Keep Plastic Out Of The Oceans?

Read the full story in Fast Company.

Something like 9 million tons of plastic enter the world’s oceans every year, and, at current rates, the problem is likely to get worse before it gets better. As developing countries expand, they tend to consume more packaged goods while failing to implement adequate collection systems. By 2050, there could be more plastic in the water than fish, according to one estimate.

Forty years after the first recycling symbol appeared, only about 14% of plastic is currently recycled. But by redesigning packaging along circular economy principles, reusing more plastic bags, and by investing in recycling infrastructure, it should be possible to get that number nearer 70%, a new report estimates.

Polymer additive could revolutionize plastics recycling

Read the full story from Cornell University.

When Geoffrey Coates, the Tisch University Professor of Chemistry and Chemical Biology, gives a talk about plastics and recycling, he usually opens with this question: What percentage of the 78 million tons of plastic used annually for packaging – for example, a 2-liter bottle or a take-out food container – actually gets recycled and reused in a similar way?

The answer, according to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, is just 2 percent. Sadly, nearly a third is leaked into the environment, around 14 percent is used in incineration and/or energy recovery, and a whopping 40 percent winds up in landfills.

One of the problems: Polyethylene (PE) and polypropylene (PP), which account for two-thirds of the world’s plastics, have different chemical structures and thus cannot be repurposed together. Or, at least, an efficient technology to meld these two materials into one hasn’t been available in the 60 years they’ve both been on the market.

That could change with a discovery out of Coates’ lab. He and his group have collaborated with a group from the University of Minnesota to develop a multiblock polymer that, when added in small measure to a mix of the two otherwise incompatible materials, create a new and mechanically tough polymer.

Their work is detailed in a paper, “Combining polyethylene and polypropylene: Enhanced performance with PE/iPP multiblock polymers,” published online Feb. 23 in Science.

Plastic litter on Great Lakes beaches

Read the full story in Great Lakes Echo.

What do cigarette butts, takeout containers, straws and water bottles have in common? They’re some of the most common litter found on Lake Michigan and Lake Erie beaches, according to a recent study published in Science of the Total Environment.

Sea Unworthy: A Personal Journey into the Pacific Garbage Patch [Slide Show]

Read the full story and view the slide show from Scientific American.

More plastic in the oceans, found at greater depths than thought, would mean a bigger threat to environmental—and possibly human—health.

Are We Eating Our Fleece Jackets? Microfibers Are Migrating Into Field And Food

Read the full story from NPR.

The innovation of synthetic fleece has allowed many outdoor enthusiasts to hike with warmth and comfort. But what many of these fleece-wearing nature lovers don’t know is that each wash of their jackets and pullovers releases thousands of microscopicplastic fibers, or microfibers, into the environment — from their favorite national park to agricultural lands to waters with fish that make it back onto our plates.

This has scientists wondering: Are we eating our sweaters’ synthetic microfibers?