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Arctic Ice found to hold trillions of plastic particles

North Pacific Ocean convergence zone
North Pacific Ocean convergence zone
NOAA (National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (public domain)

If you have ever wondered what happens to discarded plastics, the answer is that it seems to be ending up trapped in Arctic ice according to a new study by Rachel Obbard, a “materials” scientist at Dartmouth college and Richard Thompson, a marine biologist at the University of Plymouth in the United Kingdom. According to their report published Earth's Future and Science Magazine Obbard's and Thompson's research team was able to detect trillions of particles in core samples, which they fear will could eventually harm sea life and other ecological systems throughout the world as it is released by continuously melting ice. The pair estimate that, under current melting trends, more than 1 trillion more pieces of plastic could be released in the next 10 years.

Scientists have already been aware that polymer beads, fibers, and other micro-fragments end up in the ocean, near coastlines, as well as “swirling eddies such as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch” (a large basically stagnant region inside the North Pacific Ocean Gyre), but were surprised to find so much more of it in such a remote area.

Previous studies have shown that “humans produced nearly 300 million tons of plastic in 2012 alone, with the amount continually growing.” Surprisingly most of the manmade waste particles found in the arctic ice were from materials used for clothing with 54% reported to be rayon (a non-synthetic polymer derived from cellulose also found in disposable diapers and cigarette filters), 21% of the particles turned put to be polyester;16% nylon, and 3% polypropylene. Polystyrene, polyethylene and acrylics each accounted for another 2%.