Plastic island, the new ecosystem made up of microplastics

The study conducted by Italy is the first relating to freshwater in the coldest areas of the planet, particularly sensitive to climate change

by Lorenzo Ciotti
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Plastic island, the new ecosystem made up of microplastics

The research conducted by the Italian National Research Council and published in the journal Science of the Total Environment, said the Plastisphere was born, the set of ecosystems hosted in microplastics and the consequence of pollution so widespread as to have reached the fresh waters of the Poles and of the Tibetan plateau.

As reported by the Italina news agency ANSA, the study conducted by Italy is the first relating to freshwater in the coldest areas of the planet, particularly sensitive to climate change. The researchers say: "Our work has highlighted how even heavy metals, such as copper, lead and nickel, tend to bind to microplastics in water, representing a further environmental problem.

We believe that further research and that monitoring and combating microplastic pollution, especially in areas that are so environmentally fragile, must be considered among the priorities of political decision-makers for the next decade."

Plastic island, the new ecosystem made up of microplastics

This form of pollution is becoming a global threat, considering that plastic production increased from 1.5 million tons in the 1950s to 359 million tons in 2018.

Maurizio Azzaro, of the Institute of Polar Sciences of the Cnr in Messina, one of the authors of the research, said: "Arctic, Antarctica, Plateau of Tibet: we have considered three environments very distant from each other, but united by the presence of microplastics in the lakes , in rivers, glaciers and snow, in all probability transported to these areas by birds and wind, or accumulated as a result of human activities, such as tourism and research activities carried out at the bases." The study said: "The role of microorganisms in these artificial environments, the action of microbes can alter the buoyancy and increase the toxicity of plastic polymers, but at the same time accelerate their degradation, by virtue of low temperatures.

Therefore, the use of microbes could be a potential green way to mitigate microplastic pollution in cold areas of the Earth." While floating biological waste undergoes spontaneous biodegradation, an enormous amount of non-biodegradable materials such as plastics and marine debris is accumulating in this ocean area.

Instead of biodegrading, plastic photodegrades, i.e. it disintegrates into smaller and smaller pieces up to the size of the polymers that compose it; nevertheless, the latter remain plastic and their biodegradation is still very difficult. Photodegradation of plastics can produce PCB pollution.