WIRED – The plastics industry has long hyped recycling, even though it is well aware that it’s been a failure.
Worldwide, only 9 percent of plastic waste actually gets recycled. In the United States, the rate is now 5 percent.
Most used plastic is landfilled, incinerated, or winds up drifting around the environment.
Now, an alarming new study has found that even when plastic makes it to a recycling center, it can still end up splintering into smaller bits that contaminate the air and water.
This pilot study focused on a single new facility where plastics are sorted, shredded, and melted down into pellets.
“Researchers found high levels of airborne microplastics inside the facility, ready for workers to inhale. Previous research has found that recycled pellets contain a number of toxic chemicals, including endocrine-disrupting ones.”
Along the way, the plastic is washed several times, sloughing off microplastic particles—fragments smaller than 5 millimeters—into the plant’s wastewater.
Because there were multiple washes, the researchers could sample the water at four separate points along the production line. (They are not disclosing the identity of the facility’s operator, who cooperated with their project.)
This plant was actually in the process of installing filters that could snag particles larger than 50 microns (a micron is a millionth of a meter), so the team was able to calculate the microplastic concentrations in raw versus filtered discharge water—basically a before-and-after snapshot of how effective filtration is.
Their microplastics tally was astronomical. Even with filtering, they calculate that the total discharge from the different washes could produce up to 75 billion particles per cubic meter of wastewater.
“Plastic particles can be dangerous to human lung cells … When plastics break down in water, they release “leachate”—a complex cocktail of chemicals, many of which are hazardous to life.”
Depending on the recycling facility, that liquid would ultimately get flushed into city water systems or the environment. In other words, recyclers trying to solve the plastics crisis may in fact be accidentally exacerbating the microplastics crisis, which is coating every corner of the environment with synthetic particles … READ MORE.
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