Waste Plastic in Our Environment

Janice Brahney Study


Plastic permeates the air we breathe. Over 1,000 tons of tiny fragments of plastic rain down each year on national parks and wilderness areas. Janice Brahney, a professor of Watershed Sciences at Utah State University, explains 'plastic spiraling,' the process of microplastics being carried through natural systems over a long period: “Plastics could be deposited, readmitted to the atmosphere, transported for some time, deposited and may be picked up again," Brahney said. "And who knows how many times and who knows how far they've traveled?  "Plastic has been found in samples downwind from major metropolitan cities.  Professor Brahney and her team conducted a study of the amount of microplastic beads, fibers, and fragments carried via wind and rain by placing filters in various field sites.  The study found an average rate of 132 plastics per square meter, per day, which amounts to more than 1000 metric tons of plastic deposition to western U.S. protected lands annually.  At current rates, the team projected that up to 11 billion metric tons of microplastic pollution will be dispersed in the environment by 2025.  (Reprinted with permission. To view full report Plastic rain in protected areas of the United States - PubMed (nih.gov)

 

A study endorsed by National Geographic found that by 2015, humans produced 6.3 billion metric tons of plastic waste.  Of that total waste, only 9% was recycled, 12% was incinerated and 79% was discarded in landfills or the natural environment.

The Great Pacific Garbage Patch also known as the Pacific Trash Vortex, spans waters from the West Coast of North America to Japan. The patch is actually composed of the Western Garbage Patch, located near Japan, and the Eastern Garbage Patch, located between Hawaii and California in the US.  The quantities of debris in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch accumulates because much of it is not biodegradable. Many plastics, for instance, do not wear down; they simply break into tinier and tinier pieces.

pacific garbage patch 2.jfif