Both categories of microplastics (primary and secondary) have been found to persist in the environment in large quantities, especially in marine and aquatic ecosystems. This is because plastic deforms but does not break for many years, it can be ingested and accumulated in the body and tissues of many organisms.
The entire cycle and movement of microplastics in the environment has not yet been studied in depth, especially due to the difficulty of analyzing a mixture of various types of more or less inert plastics. According to the results provided by the University of Strathclyde, the microplastics in the ocean could be transferred to the air through the process of expelling the bubbles and the action of the waves, for example from strong winds or turbulent seas.
Previous studies had already shown that microplastics can be transported by the wind for long distances into the atmosphere. Steve Allen, of the Center for water, environment, sustainability and public health of the Department of civil and environmental engineering of the University of Strathclyde, says that the sea breeze has traditionally been considered clean air, but this study shows that it carries surprising quantities of microplastic.
It seems that some plastic particles could leave the sea and enter the atmosphere together with sea salt, bacteria, viruses and algae. An international research team has found evidence that microplastics could be expelled from the sea with waves, wind and splashes, releasing aerosols into the atmosphere that transports the microplastics back to the mainland.
Microplasty is threatening the health of the oceans and ours: here's how
The researchers used a cloud catcher equipment, which filtered the drops of water from the spray of the waves and the sea breeze to capture the microplastics, sampling the air according to the various directions and wind speeds.
They found fragments and plastic fibers in the air, expelled from the sea to spread towards the land. Fragments and microplastic fibers have been found in marine aerosols, which distribute the pollution between ocean and land.
According to data from the same plastics industries, around 359 million tons of plastic were produced worldwide in 2018 and some estimates suggest that, every year, about 10% of all plastic produced ends up at sea. Awareness of the risks to the biodiversity of seas and oceans is raising people's sensibility, but the majority believe that the plastic that ends up in the oceans remains there.
Thanks to the study Examination of the ocean as a source for atmospheric microplastics, it was discovered that hundreds of thousands of tons of microplastics could be blown ashore by the ocean breeze every year.