Researchers at Washington State University have identified algorithms by which tiny pieces of plastic bags and foam packaging move around the environment.
Scientists have found that a silica surface, such as sand, has little effect on slowing down the movement of plastics. However, organics resulting from the decomposition of plant and animal remains can effectively trap nanoscale plastic particles, depending on their type.
New work is being done to help researchers develop more efficient ways to filter and clean up penetrating plastics from the environment.
We are planning to develop a filter that will be more efficient at removing plastics. We can see that the current drinking water system is not adequate enough to remove these micro and nano-sized plastics.
Indranil Chowdhury, Associate Professor, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, University of Washington
In a new study, the authors examined how particles of the two most common types of plastics interact with the environment: polyethylene and polystyrene.
Polyethylene is used in plastic bags, milk packaging, and food preservation, while polystyrene is a foamed plastic that is used in foam cups and packaging materials.
In their work, the researchers found that polyethylene particles from plastic bags easily move around the environment – be it the surface of silica or sand. Sand and plastic particles repel each other like unipolar magnets. However, plastic particles stick to the humus. Polystyrene can also be effectively trapped with black soil.