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Littering with new plastic might not harm dolphins, sea turtles

Littering with new plastic might not harm dolphins, sea turtles

Littering with new plastic might not harm dolphins, sea turtles
March 28, 2007

A new environmentally friendly plastic that degrades in seawater may make it possible to toss plastic waste overboard without killing turtles, dolphins and other marine life, according to research presented at the 233rd national meeting of the American Chemical Society by scientists from the University of Southern Mississippi.

“There are many groups working on biodegradable plastics, but we’re one of a few working on plastics that degrade in seawater,” says study leader Robson F. Storey, a professor of Polymer Science and Engineering at the University of Southern Mississippi (USM). “We’re moving toward making plastics more sustainable, especially those that are used at sea.”

“Conventional plastics can take years to break down and may result in byproducts that are harmful to the environment and toxic to marine organisms, conditions that make their disposal at sea hazardous,” explained a release from USM. “The new plastics are capable of degrading in as few as 20 days and result in natural byproducts that are nontoxic.”

The new plastics are made of polyurethane that has been modified by the incorporation of PLGA [poly (D,L-lactide-co-glycolide)]. In seawater the plastics degrade into water, carbon dioxide, lactic acid, glycolic acid, succinic acid, caproic acid and L-lysine within about 20 days. Further, because the plastics are denser than water, they sink, preventing them from washing up on beaches or being confused by ocean predators as jellyfish.

The researchers say the plastics are nearing commercialization, but need to overcome legal hurdles that currently prevent the disposal of plastics at sea. Additional environmental testing is also required.

This article is based on press materials from the American Chemical Society

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