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The stratigraphy of plastics and their preservation in geological records

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Abstract

(No abstract in chapter) Contents of Chapter: Intro - Plastics as a Distinctive Technofossil Group - Production and Degradation of Plastic Materials: An Overview - Plastic Redistribution in the Environment: An Overview - The Fate of Microplastics in Ocean Settings - Plastics as a High-Resolution Stratigraphic Tool - Outlook: The Role of Plastics for Anthropocene Studies: Plastics are now part of our everyday life. They have entered and for some time will still enter sedimentary deposits of many terrestrial and aquatic settings, eventually becoming incorporated into sedimentary deposits of the Anthropocene as technofossils, varying greatly in shape, size, and chemical composition. Analyzing these deposits allows us to monitor where and in what quantities plastics have been distributed. At the same time, the onset of plastic-containing deposits might provide a globally correlatable horizon that could help define the base of the Anthropocene. In addition, various types of plastics are expected to provide a refined subdivision and correlation tool within sedimentary deposits within the Anthropocene (Figure 4.3.2). Plastics in the environment are, however, not just a useful stratigraphic tool but also a threat to organisms, including humans. Hence, an ultimate goal is to diminish the footprint of plastics within sediments (and environments as a whole) by better recycling and reuse. Whether this is successful or not, plastic will leave a long-duration and globally correlatable succession in sedimentary deposits worldwide that may help not only to define and subdivide the Anthropocene but also to monitor the potential success of reducing plastic impact on environments into the future. And should it be possible to achieve plastic-free sedimentary deposits in a future phase of the Anthropocene, this would again provide a clear stratigraphic subunit, the post- plastic zone of a future Anthropocene. For now, plastics provide a distinctive physical record of technosphere evolution during the late 20th and early 21st centuries.

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...  Plastics production has increased rapidly since the 1950s. Primary microplastics (e.g., synthetic textile fibres) and secondary microplastics (degradation products of macroplastics) have become ubiquitous in Anthropocene seabed, coastal and lake sediments and are even found in ice sheets (Leinfelder and Ivar do Sul, 2019;Zalasiewicz et al., 2019c). Even if emissions are successfully controlled, the large plastic reservoirs in the oceans (Pabortsava and Lampitt, 2020), together with release from legacy repositories such as eroding coastal landfill sites, will ensure their presence within the water column and deposition to the ocean floor for many centuries to come. ...
Article
Event stratigraphy is used to help characterise the Anthropocene as a chronostratigraphic concept, based on analogous deep-time events, for which we provide a novel categorization. Events in stratigraphy are distinct from extensive, time-transgressive ‘episodes’ – such as the global, highly diachronous record of anthropogenic change, termed here an Anthropogenic Modification Episode (AME). Nested within the AME are many geologically correlatable events, the most notable being those of the Great Acceleration Event Array (GAEA). This isochronous array of anthropogenic signals represents brief, unique events evident in geological deposits, e.g.: onset of the radionuclide ‘bomb-spike’; appearance of novel organic chemicals and fuel ash particles; marked changes in patterns of sedimentary deposition, heavy metal contents and carbon/nitrogen isotopic ratios; and ecosystem changes leaving a global fossil record; all around the mid-20th century. The GAEA reflects a fundamental transition of the Earth System to a new state in which many parameters now lie beyond the range of Holocene variability. Globally near-instantaneous events can provide robust primary guides for chronostratigraphic boundaries. Given the intensity, magnitude, planetary significance and global isochroneity of the GAEA, it provides a suitable level for recognition of the base of the Anthropocene as a series/epoch.
...  Plastics production has increased rapidly since the 1950s. Primary microplastics (e.g., synthetic textile fibres) and secondary microplastics (degradation products of macroplastics) have become ubiquitous in Anthropocene seabed, coastal and lake sediments and are even found in ice sheets (Leinfelder and Ivar do Sul, 2019;Zalasiewicz et al., 2019c). Even if emissions are successfully controlled, the large plastic reservoirs in the oceans (Pabortsava and Lampitt, 2020), together with release from legacy repositories such as eroding coastal landfill sites, will ensure their presence within the water column and deposition to the ocean floor for many centuries to come. ...
Preprint
Full-text available
Event stratigraphy is used to help characterise the Anthropocene as a chronostratigraphic concept, based on analogous deep-time events, for which we provide a novel categorization. Events in stratigraphy are distinct from extensive, time-transgressive ‘episodes’ – such as the global, highly diachronous record of anthropogenic change, termed here an Anthropogenic Modification Episode (AME). Nested within the AME are many geologically correlatable events, the most notable being those of the Great Acceleration Event Array (GAEA). This isochronous array of anthropogenic signals represents brief, unique events evident in geological deposits, e.g.: onset of the radionuclide ‘bomb-spike’; appearance of novel organic chemicals and fuel ash particles; marked changes in patterns of sedimentary deposition, heavy metal contents and carbon/nitrogen isotopic ratios; and ecosystem changes leaving a global fossil record; all around the mid-20th century. The GAEA reflects a fundamental transition of the Earth System to a new state in which many parameters now lie beyond the range of Holocene variability. Globally near-instantaneous events can provide robust primary guides for chronostratigraphic boundaries. Given the intensity, magnitude, planetary significance and global isochroneity of the GAEA, it provides a suitable level for recognition of the base of the Anthropocene as a series/epoch. (peer reviewed preproof version: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0012825222002550 )
... Während die Vorkriegsproduktion minimal war und 1950 erst etwa 1,5 Millionen Tonnen angefertigt wurden, stieg die jährliche Produktion auf nunmehr über 320 Millionen Tonnen, was schon fast der Biomasse aller lebenden Menschen entspricht (cf. Zalasiewicz et al. 2016, Leinfelder/Ivar do Sul 2019. 2,5 Milliarden Tonnen des insgesamt produzierten Plastiks sind derzeit noch in Gebrauch, weltweit betrachtet wird allerdings nur ein sehr kleiner Teil recycelt oder verbrannt, während etwa 4,9 Milliarden Tonnen, also ca. ...
Chapter
Leinfelder, R. (2019): Das Anthropozän - Die Erde in unserer Hand.- In: Schwinger, E. (ed.) Das Anthropozän im Diskurs der Fachdisziplinen, . S.-23-46 Weimar bei Marburg (Metropolis-Verlag, ). (For more info see https://www.metropolis-verlag.de/Das-Anthropozaen-im-Diskurs-der-Fachdisziplinen/1394/book.do )
... Während die Vorkriegsproduktion minimal war und 1950 erst etwa 1,5 Millionen Tonnen angefertigt wurden, stieg die jährliche Produktion auf nunmehr über 320 Millionen Tonnen, was schon fast der Biomasse aller lebenden Menschen entspricht (cf. Zalasiewicz et al. 2016, Leinfelder/Ivar do Sul 2019. 2,5 Milliarden Tonnen des insgesamt produzierten Plastiks sind derzeit noch in Gebrauch, weltweit betrachtet wird allerdings nur ein sehr kleiner Teil recycelt oder verbrannt, während etwa 4,9 Milliarden Tonnen, also ca. ...
Preprint
Leinfelder, R. (2019, in press): Das Anthropozän - Die Erde in unserer Hand.- In: Schwinger, E. (ed.) Das Anthropozän im Diskurs der Fachdisziplinen. Weimar bei Marburg (Metropolis-Verlag, ISBN 978-3-7316-1394-7). (For more info see https://www.metropolis-verlag.de/Das-Anthropozaen-im-Diskurs-der-Fachdisziplinen/1394/book.do )
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Data
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This is the english pdf version (automatized translation via Google translator) of the original German version at https://scilogs.spektrum.de/der-anthropozaeniker/rohstoffmanagement-im-anthropozaen-das-beispiel-der-phosphate/ See also here for german pdf version: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/321477488_Rohstoffmanagement_im_Anthropozan_-_Das_Beispiel_der_Phosphate
Technical Report
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Info: This is the extended version of Leinfelder., R. (2017), "Die Erde wie eine Stiftung behandeln" – Ressourcenschutz und Rohstoffeffizienz im Anthropozän (also available here at researchgate). The present version includes some additional aspects and 14 additional figures, having been posted at Der Anthropozäniker, Spektrum Scilogs (this researchgate uploaded is a pdf-printed version). Please note that this might be a "living paper" which might be updated occasionally (see latest version at https://scilogs.spektrum.de/der-anthropozaeniker/rohstoffmanagement-im-anthropozaen-das-beispiel-der-phosphate/ ) You may also check the automatized Google translation into english at https://tinyurl.com/RL-scilogs-phosphates
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Einleitung: Der Eingriff des Menschen in die Umwelt hat Ausmaße erreicht, die schwer vorstellbar sind – Quantitative Abschätzungen dazu eröffnen die Dimension: so hat der Mensch bislang mehr als drei Viertel der eisfreien festen Erde umgestaltet – eine "Urnatur" ist hier nicht mehr vorhanden [Ellis & Ramankutty 2008, Ellis et al. 2010, Ellis 2011]. Die Unterscheidungen zwischen Natur und Kultur funktioniert nicht mehr. Heutige Naturlandschaften sind überwiegend auch Kulturlandschaften. Ähnlich sieht es in den Meeren aus, in denen die Überfischung gewaltige Ausmaße erreicht und auch Meeres-erwärmung, Versauerung, Überdüngung sowie andere Schadstoffe Korallenriffe und Plankton gefährden. Eine ganz besondere Rolle spielt auch das Ausmaß der Nutzung nicht nachwachsender Ressourcen – so verwendet der Mensch nicht nur fossile Energieträger, deren Verbrennung den anthro¬pogenen Klimawandel bedingen, sondern auch Unmengen anderer Rohstoffe, wie Sand, Kalk, Eisenerze oder seltene Erden, um daraus Gebäude, Infrastrukturen, Geräte und Maschinen zu produzieren, deren Erstellung und Betrieb dann wiederum Energie benötigt. Eine aktuelle wissen-schaftliche Abschätzung besagt, dass die Menschheit bislang die unvorstellbare Menge von 30 Billionen Tonnen an Technosphäre hergestellt hat, 40% dieser Technosphäre befinden sich in und unter den Städten dieser Welt [Zalasiewicz et al. 2017a]. Andere technische Produkte, wie insbesondere Kunststoffe verteilen sich über die ganze Erde. So hat der Mensch insgesamt etwa 8,3 Milliarden Tonnen Kunststoffe erstellt [Geyer et al. 2017]. Während die Vorkriegsproduktion minimal war und 1950 erst etwa 1,5 Millionen Tonnen produziert wurden, stieg die jährliche Produktion auf nunmehr über 320 Millionen Tonnen, was schon fast der Biomasse aller lebenden Menschen entspricht [Zalasiewicz et al. 2016, Leinfelder & Ivar do Sul, im Druck ]. 2,5 Milliarden Tonnen des insgesamt produzierten Plastiks sind immerhin derzeit noch in Gebrauch, weltweit betrachtet wird allerdings nur ein sehr kleiner Teil recycelt oder verbrannt, während etwa 4,9 Milliarden Tonnen, also ca. 60% allen bislang produzierten Plastiks in die Umwelt gelangt sind, sei es in geologisch nicht dauerhaften Deponien oder direkt in die Umwelt auf Land und im Meer [Geyer et al. 2017]. Bau und Betrieb technischer Maschinen aus Naturressourcen ermöglicht wiederum, andere Ressourcen, darunter Phosphate abzubauen und in Form von Kunstdüngern auf landwirtschaftliche Flächen zu bringen oder für die Nahrungsmittelproduktion in anderer Weise zu verwenden. Eine aktuelle Studie trug die verfügbaren Daten zusammen [Williams et al. 2016, auch für weitere Literatur]: Zwischen 1910 und 2005 verdoppelte sich hiernach der menschengemachte Anteil an der pflanzlichen Nettoprimärproduktion (NPP) von 13 auf 25% der globalen Vegetation, was auch eine Verdoppelung des Eintrags an reaktivem Stickstoff und Phosphor in die Umwelt bewirkte sowie gewaltige Anteile an fossiler Energie für die landwirtschaftliche Produktion erfordert. 2014 wurden 225 Millionen Tonnen fossiler Phosphate abgebaut, für 2018 werden 258 Millionen Tonnen prognostiziert. Die Szenarien für den Anteil des Menschen an der gesamten pflanzlichen Primär¬produktion bis zum Jahr 2050 belaufen sich auf 27 bis 44% NPP. In einer gewissen Geschwindigkeit in Form von Guano grundsätzlich nachwachsendes Phosphat ist längst abgebaut. Ganze Inseln wurden dazu umgestaltet und teilweise entvölkert [zur tragischen Geschichte des Phosphatabbaus auf den Pazifikinseln Banaba und Nauru siehe z.B. Ellis 1936, Folliet 2011, Jaramillo 2016, Teaiwa, 2015, 2017]. Insbesondere die Landwirtschaft benötigt heute enorme Mengen an Phosphaten, welche fast ausschließlich aus wenigen fossilen und endlichen Vorkommen der Kreide und Alttertiärzeit abgebaut werden, mit einer gewaltigen geopolitisch bedeutsamen Monopol¬stellung in der heute an Marokko angegliederten Westsahara [USGS 2016]. Der Abbau dieser Vorkommen ist technisch aufwendig und wegen der vielen assoziierten Schwermetalle enorm umweltkritisch [e.g. BGR 2013, PotashCorp 2014, Benjelloun 2016]. Obwohl also Phosphat eine sehr endliche geologische Ressource darstellt, bringt der Mensch zwischenzeitlich mehr in den Phosphatkreislauf ein, als die Natur an Phosphat aus Verwitterung und natürlichen Recycling-prozessen zur Verfügung stellt. Somit gelangt nun also mehr als das Doppelte des vorindustriellen Werts an reaktivem Phosphor in die Umwelt, womit die planetarische Grenze für den Phosphor-kreislauf [sensu Rockström et al. 2009 und Steffen et al. 2015] bereits überschritten sind. In Deutsch-land gingen zwar die Phosphatkonzentrationen in Fließgewässern durch den Stopp der Verwendung von Phosphaten für im Privathaushalt verwendete Waschmittel sowie verbesserte Kläranlagen deutlich zurück, allerdings nahmen die Ausflüsse aus der Landwirtschaft weiter zu. Insgesamt haben aber landwirtschaftliche Prozesse den größten Anteil an den Phosphateinträgen in die Umwelt [Meier 2017]. Da Phosphate, wie auch viele andere, bislang vor allem aus fossilen Ressourcen hergestellte technische Produkte für unsere heutigen Gesellschaften essenziell sind, erscheint ein näherer Blick auf die Gesamtproblematik der Eingriffe des Menschen in die Umwelt angebracht. Das Anthropozän-Konzept bietet hier eine neue Sicht sowohl auf die Vernetztheit und das Ausmaß von Umweltproblematiken, als auch auf mögliche Lösungsansätze an.
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Plastics are the most abundant form of marine debris, with global production rising and documented impacts in some marine environments, but the influence of plastic on open ocean ecosystems is poorly understood, particularly for microbial communities. Plastic Marine Debris (PMD) collected at multiple locations in the North Atlantic was analyzed with Scanning Electron Microscopy (SEM) and next-generation sequencing to characterize the attached microbial communities. We unveiled a diverse microbial community of heterotrophs, autotrophs, predators, and symbionts, a community we refer to as the "Plastisphere." Pits visualized in the PMD surface conformed to bacterial shapes as suggesting active hydrolysis of the hydrocarbon polymer. Small-subunit ribosomal RNA gene surveys identified several hydrocarbon-degrading bacteria, supporting the possibility that microbes play a role in degrading PMD. Some Plastisphere members may be opportunistic pathogens such as specific members of the genus Vibrio that dominated one of our plastic samples (the authors, unpublished data). Plastisphere communities are distinct from surrounding surface water, implying that plastic serves as a novel ecological habitat in the open ocean. Plastic has a longer half-life than most natural floating marine substrates, and a hydrophobic surface that promotes microbial colonization and biofilm formation, differing from autochthonous substrates in the upper layers of the ocean.
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A two-step method was developed to extract microplastics from sediments. First, 1 kg sediments was pre-extracted using the air-induced overflow (AIO) method, based on fluidisation in a sodium chloride (NaCl) solution. The original sediment mass was reduced by up to 80%. As a consequence, it was possible to reduce the volume of sodium iodide (NaI) solution used for the subsequent flotation step. Recoveries of the whole procedure for polyethylene, polypropylene (PP), polyvinyl chloride (PVC), polyethylene terephthalate (PET), polystyrene and polyurethane with sizes of approximately 1 mm were between 91 and 99%. After being stored for one week in a 35% H 2 O 2 solution, 92% of selected biogenic material had dissolved completely or had lost its colour, whereas the tested polymers were resistant. Microplastics were extracted from three sediment samples collected from the North Sea island Norderney. Using pyrolysis gas chromatography/mass spectrometry, these microplastics were identified as PP, PVC and PET.
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In their recent paper on the degradation of polyethylene by caterpillars of the wax moth Galleria melonella, Bombelli et al. [1] report various experiments, including microscopic and spectroscopic data which the authors believe support the chemical digestion of the polymers by these insects. While the biodegradation of mostly inert artificial polymers is definitely a very interesting research field, we must respectfully disagree with the methodology and conclusions from this paper.
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Samples of microplastic (n = 924) from two beaches in south west England have been analysed by field-portable-x-ray fluorescence (FP-XRF) spectrometry, configured in a low-density mode and with a small-spot facility, for the heavy metals, Cd and Pb, and the halogen, Br. Primary plastics in the form of pre-production pellets were the principal type of microplastic (>70%) on both beaches, with secondary, irregularly-shaped fragments representing the remainder of samples. Cadmium and Pb were detected in 6.9% and 7.5% of all microplastics, respectively, with concentrations of either metal that exceeded 10³ μg g⁻¹ usually encountered in red and yellow pellets or fragments. Respective correlations of Cd and Pb with Se and Cr were attributed to the presence of the coloured, inorganic pigments, cadmium sulphoselenide and lead chromate. Bromine, detected in 10.4% of microplastics and up to concentrations of about 13,000 μg g⁻¹, was mainly encountered in neutrally-coloured pellets. Its strong correlation with Sb, whose oxides are effective fire suppressant synergists, suggests the presence of a variety of brominated flame retardants arising from the recycling of plastics originally used in casings for heat-generating electrical equipment. The maximum bioaccessible concentrations of Cd and Pb, evaluated using a physiological extraction based on the chemical characteristics of the proventriculus-gizzard of the northern fulmar, were about 50 μg g⁻¹ and 8 μg g⁻¹, respectively. These concentrations exceed those estimated for the diet of local seabirds by factors of about 50 and 4, respectively.
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Marine microscopic plastic (microplastic) debris is a modern societal issue, illustrating the challenge of balancing the convenience of plastic in daily life with the prospect of causing ecological harm by careless disposal. Here we develop the concept of microplastic as a complex, dynamic mixture of polymers and additives, to which organic material and contaminants can successively bind to form an ‘ecocorona’, increasing the density and surface charge of particles and changing their bioavailability and toxicity. Chronic exposure to microplastic is rarely lethal, but can adversely affect individual animals, reducing feeding and depleting energy stores, with knock-on effects for fecundity and growth. We explore the extent to which ecological processes could be impacted, including altered behaviours, bioturbation and impacts on carbon flux to the deep ocean. We discuss how microplastic compares with other anthropogenic pollutants in terms of ecological risk, and consider the role of science and society in tackling this global issue in the future.
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In this review the analytical techniques for measuring microplastics in sediment have been evaluated. Four primary areas of the analytical process have been identified that include (1) sampling, (2) extraction, (3) quantitation and (4) quality assurance/quality control (QAQC). Each of those sections have their own subject specific challenges and require further method development and harmonisation. The most common approach to extracting microplastics from sediments is density separation. Following extraction, visual counting with an optical microscope is the most common technique for quantifying microplastics; a technique that is labour intensive and prone to human error. Spectroscopy (FTIR; Raman) are the most commonly applied techniques for identifying polymers collected through visual sorting. Improvements and harmonisation on size fractions, sampling approaches, extraction protocols and units for reporting plastic abundance would aid comparison of data generated by different research teams. Further, we advocate the development of strong QAQC procedures to be adopted like other fields of analytical chemistry. Finally, inter-laboratory proficiency testing is recommended to give an indication of the variation and reliability in measurements reported in the scientific literature that may be under- or overestimations of environmental burdens.
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Pollution of the oceans by microplastics (<5 mm) represents a major environmental problem. To date, a limited number of studies have investigated the level of contamination of marine organisms collected in situ. For extraction and characterization of microplastics in biological samples, the crucial step is the identification of solvent(s) or chemical(s) that efficiently dissolve organic matter without degrading plastic polymers for their identification in a time and cost effective way. Most published papers, as well as OSPAR recommendations for the development of a common monitoring protocol for plastic particles in fish and shellfish at the European level, use protocols containing nitric acid to digest the biological tissues, despite reports of polyamide degradation with this chemical. In the present study, six existing approaches were tested and their effects were compared on up to 15 different plastic polymers, as well as their efficiency in digesting biological matrices. Plastic integrity was evaluated through microscopic inspection, weighing, pyrolysis coupled with gas chromatography and mass spectrometry, and Raman spectrometry before and after digestion. Tissues from mussels, crabs and fish were digested before being filtered on glass fibre filters. Digestion efficiency was evaluated through microscopical inspection of the filters and determination of the relative removal of organic matter content after digestion. Five out of the six tested protocols led to significant degradation of plastic particles and/or insufficient tissue digestion. The protocol using a KOH 10% solution and incubation at 60 °C during a 24 h period led to an efficient digestion of biological tissues with no significant degradation on all tested polymers, except for cellulose acetate. This protocol appeared to be the best compromise for extraction and later identification of microplastics in biological samples and should be implemented in further monitoring studies to ensure relevance and comparison of environmental and seafood product quality studies.
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The rise of plastics since the mid-20th century, both as a material element of modern life and as a growing environmental pollutant, has been widely described. Their distribution in both the terrestrial and marine realms suggests that they are a key geological indicator of the Anthropocene, as a distinctive stratal component. Most immediately evident in terrestrial deposits, they are clearly becoming widespread in marine sedimentary deposits in both shallow- and deep-water settings. They are abundant and widespread as macroscopic fragments and virtually ubiquitous as microplastic particles; these are dispersed by both physical and biological processes, not least via the food chain and the ‘faecal express’ route from surface to sea floor. Plastics are already widely dispersed in sedimentary deposits, and their amount seems likely to grow several-fold over the next few decades. They will continue to be input into the sedimentary cycle over coming millennia as temporary stores – landfill sites – are eroded. Plastics already enable fine time resolution within Anthropocene deposits via the development of their different types and via the artefacts (‘technofossils’) they are moulded into, and many of these may have long-term preservation potential when buried in strata.
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Hollow Glass Microspheres for Plastics, Elastomers, and Adhesives Compounds brings together, for the first time, all of the practical and theoretical aspects of glass bubble manufacturing, including its properties, processing, and applications, as well as regulatory, environmental, and health and safety aspects. The book enables the reader to evaluate the applicability of glass bubbles to various applications involving polymers in thermoplastics, elastomers, liquid thermosets, and adhesives. It is an indispensible guide for material selection and improving sustainability of products. Related data sets and case studies complement the book, making it a reference book for plastics processors, product designers, and engineers working with plastics and elastomers, and anyone who wants to improve functionality and performance, make their products lighter, longer lasting, and stronger, all while reducing costs and material needs. Provides best practices for plastics and rubber processing with glass bubbles. Synthesizes all of the practical and theoretical aspects of glass bubble manufacturing, including its properties, applications, and more. Describes different end-use applications and how glass bubbles influence various properties, including mechanical, structural, thermal, and optical properties in these applications. A one-stop reference book that also covers the regulatory and environmental aspects of this important additive.
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The technosphere, the interlinked set of communication, transportation, bureaucratic and other systems that act to metabolize fossil fuels and other energy resources, is considered to be an emerging global paradigm, with similarities to the lithosphere, atmosphere, hydrosphere and biosphere. The technosphere is of global extent, exhibits large-scale appropriation of mass and energy resources, shows a tendency to co-opt for its own use information produced by the environment, and is autonomous. Unlike the older paradigms, the technosphere has not yet evolved the ability to recycle its own waste stream. Unless or until it does so, its status as a paradigm remains provisional. Humans are 'parts' of the technosphere-subcomponents essential for system function. Viewed from the inside by its human parts, the technosphere is perceived as a derived and controlled construct. Viewed from outside as a geological phenomenon, the technosphere appears as a quasi-autonomous system whose dynamics constrains the behaviour of its human parts. A geological perspective on technology suggests why strategies to limit environmental damage that consider only the needs of people are likely to fail without parallel consideration of the requirements of technology, especially its need for an abundant supply of energy.
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Marine litter represents a widespread type of pollution in the World’s Oceans. This study is based on direct observation of the seafloor by means of Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) dives and reports litter abundance, type and distribution in three large submarine canyons of the NW Mediterranean Sea, namely Cap de Creus, La Fonera and Blanes canyons. Our ultimate objective is establishing the links between active hydrodynamic processes and litter distribution, thus going beyond previous, essentially descriptive studies.
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Plastic contamination is an increasing environmental problem in marine systems where it has spread globally to even the most remote habitats. Plastic pieces in smaller size scales, microplastics (particles <5mm), have reached high densities (e.g., 100 000 items per m3) in waters and sediments, and are interacting with organisms and the environment in a variety of ways. Early investigations of freshwater systems suggest microplastic presence and interactions are equally as far reaching as are being observed in marine systems. Microplastics are being detected in freshwaters of Europe, North America, and Asia, and the first organismal studies are finding that freshwater fauna across a range of feeding guilds ingest microplastics.
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Plastic debris in the marine environment is widely documented, but the quantity of plastic entering the ocean from waste generated on land is unknown. By linking worldwide data on solid waste, population density, and economic status, we estimated the mass of land-based plastic waste entering the ocean. We calculate that 275 million metric tons (MT) of plastic waste was generated in 192 coastal countries in 2010, with 4.8 to 12.7 million MT entering the ocean. Population size and the quality of waste management systems largely determine which countries contribute the greatest mass of uncaptured waste available to become plastic marine debris. Without waste management infrastructure improvements, the cumulative quantity of plastic waste available to enter the ocean from land is predicted to increase by an order of magnitude by 2025. Copyright © 2015, American Association for the Advancement of Science.
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For some microbes, waste plastic is the equivalent of a hotel buffet table
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Nanoplastic debris, resulted from run-off and weathering breakdown of macro and microplastics, represent an emerging concern for marine ecosystems. The aim of the present study was to investigate disposition and toxicity of polystyrene nanoparticles (PS NPs) in early development of sea urchin embryos Paracentrotus lividus. NPs with two different surface charges where chosen, carboxylated (PS-COOH) and amine (PS-NH2) polystyrene, the latter being a less common variant, known to induce cell death in several in vitro cell systems. NPs stability in natural seawater (NSW) was measured while disposition and embryotoxicity were monitored within 48 h post-fertilization (hpf). Modulation of genes involved in cellular stress response (cas8, 14-3-3ε, p-38 MAPK, Abcb1, Abcc5) was investigated. PS-COOH form micro-aggregates (PDI > 0.4) in NSW, while PS-NH2 result better dispersed (89 nm ± 2 nm) initially, though they also aggregated partially with time. Their respectively anionic and cationic nature was confirmed by zeta potential measurements. No embryotoxicity was observed for PS-COOH up to 50 µg mL-1 while PS-NH2 caused severe developmental defects (EC50 3.85 µg mL-1 -24 hpf and EC50 2.61 µg mL-1 -48 hpf). PS-COOH accumulated inside embryo's digestive trait while PS-NH2 were more dispersed. Abcb1 gene resulted up-regulated at 48 hpf by PS-COOH while PS-NH2 induced cas8 gene at 24 hpf, suggesting an apoptotic pathway. In line with the results obtained with the same PS NPs in several human cell lines, also in sea urchin embryos, differences in surface charges and aggregation in sea water strongly affect their embryotoxicity.
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Recent research has documented microplastic particles (< 5 mm in diameter) in ocean habitats worldwide and in the Laurentian Great Lakes. Microplastic interacts with biota in these habitats, including microorganisms, raising concerns about its ecological effects. Rivers may transport microplastic to marine habitats and the Great Lakes, but data on microplastic in rivers is limited. In a highly urbanized river in Chicago, Illinois, USA, we measured concentrations of microplastic that met or exceeded those measured in oceans and the Great Lakes, and we demonstrated that wastewater treatment plant effluent was a point source of microplastic. Results from high-throughput sequencing showed that bacterial assemblages colonizing microplastic within the river were less diverse and were significantly different in taxonomic composition compared to those from the water column and suspended organic matter. Several taxa that include plastic decomposing organisms and pathogens were more abundant on microplastic. These results demonstrate that microplastic in rivers are a distinct microbial habitat and may be a novel vector for the downstream transport of unique bacterial assemblages. In addition, this study suggests that urban rivers are an overlooked and potentially significant component of the global microplastic life cycle.
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A range of chemostratigraphic and lithostratigraphic markers of human impacts can be recorded in four estuaries located in the eastern Cantabrian coast (northern Spain). Metal-enriched levels and stable Pb isotopic ratios in dated sediment cores allowed the recognition of an ancient local episode of Pb contamination associated with mining activities during Roman times, as well as the widespread fingerprint of the Industrial Revolution and the “Great Acceleration” of human pressure after the Second World War. Micropalaeontological data (variations in foraminiferal assemblages) provided key information to identify agricultural soils in previously reclaimed and currently regenerated salt marshes, whereas anthropogenic beachrocks offered an example of the incorporation of technofossils to the coastal sedimentary record.
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During the German-Russian expedition KuramBio (Kuril-Kamchatka Biodiversity Studies) to the northwest Pacific Kuril-Kamchatka-Trench and its adjacent abyssal plain, we found several kinds and sizes of plastic debris ranging from fishing nets and packaging to microplastic in the sediment of the deep-sea floor. Microplastics were ubiquitous in the smaller fractions of the box corer samples from every station from depths between 4,869 and 5,766 m. They were found on the abyssal plain and in the sediments of the trench slope on both sides. The amount of microplastics differed between the stations, with lowest concentration of 60 pieces per m2 and highest concentrations of more than 2000 pieces per m2. Around 75% of the microplastics (defined here as particles<1 mm) we isolated from the sediment samples were fibers. Other particles were paint chips or small cracked pieces of unknown origin. The Kuril-Kamchatka-Trench area is known for its very rich marine fauna (Zenkevich, 1963). Yet we can only guess how these microplastics accumulated in the deep sea of the Kurile-Kamchatka-Trench area and what consequences the microplastic itself and its adsorbed chemicals will have on this very special and rich deep-sea fauna. But we herewith present an evaluation of the different kinds of plastic debris we found, as a documentation of human impact into the deep sea of this region of the Northwest Pacific.
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The distribution patterns, compositions and textures of plastic debris along the Lake Erie and St. Clair shorelines were studied in order to determine the roles of potential source locations, surface currents, and shoreline types in the accumulation of plastic litter. The results were compared with those previously determined from Lake Huron, where abundant plastic pellets characterize the southeastern shoreline. Lake Erie and St. Clair shorelines contained some pellets, but were mainly characterized by plastic fragments and intact products, respectively. The potential sources for the pellets include spillage within factories or during transport and off-loading; whereas intact products were derived from urban waste. Once entering the lake environment, low density floating polymers such as polyethylene and polypropylene were degraded by UVB radiation at either the water surface or once deposited on shorelines. Mechanical degradation by wave action and/or sand abrasion fragmented intact products into cm-size particles. Certain textures identified on the surfaces of plastic particles could be related to the nature of the depositional environment. Plastics sampled from infrequently visited muddy, organic-rich shorelines were characterized by more adhering particles and less mechanical pits than those from sandy shorelines. In terms of relative distribution, the Lake St. Clair shoreline contained the least amount of plastic debris of the three lakes. This is a function of the breakwaters and retaining walls built along Lake St. Clair, which replace natural sandy or muddy sinks for floating polymers. This study represents the first detailed record of plastics distribution along multiple, but related fresh water shorelines.
Article
The spatial distribution of small potential microplastics (SPM) (<1 mm) in beach sediments was studied on a 500 m stretch of the North Sea island of Norderney. Their correlation with visible plastic debris (VPD) (>1 mm) was also examined. Small microparticles were extracted from 36 one kg sediment samples and analysed by visual microscopic inspection and partly by thermal desorption pyrolysis gas chromatography/mass spectrometry. The smallest particle size that could be analysed with this method was estimated to be 100 μm. The mean number of SPM at the three sampling sites (n = 12) was 1.7, 1.3 and 2.3 particles per kg dry sediment, respectively. SPM were identified as polypropylene, polyethylene, polyethylene terephthalate, polyvinylchloride, polystyrene and polyamide. The organic plastic additives found were benzophenone, 1,2-benzenedicarboxylic acid, dimethyl phthalate, diethylhexyl phthalate, dibutyl phthalate, diethyl phthalate, phenol and 2,4-di-tert-butylphenol. Particles were distributed rather homogenously and the occurrence of SPM did not correlate with that of VPD.
Article
Neuston samples were collected at 21 stations during an ∼700 nautical mile (∼1300 km) expedition in July 2012 in the Laurentian Great Lakes of the United States using a 333 μm mesh manta trawl and analyzed for plastic debris. Although the average abundance was approximately 43,000 microplastic particles/km2, station 20, downstream from two major cities, contained over 466,000 particles/km2, greater than all other stations combined. SEM analysis determined nearly 20% of particles less than 1 mm, which were initially identified as microplastic by visual observation, were aluminum silicate from coal ash. Many microplastic particles were multi-colored spheres, which were compared to, and are suspected to be, microbeads from consumer products containing microplastic particles of similar size, shape, texture and composition. The presence of microplastics and coal ash in these surface samples, which were most abundant where lake currents converge, are likely from nearby urban effluent and coal burning power plants.
Article
Recently, research examining the occurrence of microplastics in the marine environment has substantially increased. Field and laboratory work regularly provide new evidence on the fate of microplastic debris. This debris has been observed within every marine habitat. In this study, at least 101 peer-reviewed papers investigating microplastic pollution were critically analysed (Supplementary material). Microplastics are commonly studied in relation to (1) plankton samples, (2) sandy and muddy sediments, (3) vertebrate and invertebrate ingestion, and (4) chemical pollutant interactions. All of the marine organism groups are at an eminent risk of interacting with microplastics according to the available literature. Dozens of works on other relevant issues (i.e., polymer decay at sea, new sampling and laboratory methods, emerging sources, externalities) were also analysed and discussed. This paper provides the first in-depth exploration of the effects of microplastics on the marine environment and biota. The number of scientific publications will increase in response to present and projected plastic uses and discard patterns. Therefore, new themes and important approaches for future work are proposed.
Article
Experiments were carried out with different Baltic Sea zooplankton taxa to scan their potential to ingest plastics. Mysid shrimps, copepods, cladocerans, rotifers, polychaete larvae and ciliates were exposed to 10 μm fluorescent polystyrene microspheres. These experiments showed ingestion of microspheres in all taxa studied. The highest percentage of individuals with ingested spheres was found in pelagic polychaete larvae, Marenzelleria spp. Experiments with the copepod Eurytemora affinis and the mysid shrimp Neomysis integer showed egestion of microspheres within 12 h. Food web transfer experiments were done by offering zooplankton labelled with ingested microspheres to mysid shrimps. Microscopy observations of mysid intestine showed the presence of zooplankton prey and microspheres after 3 h incubation. This study shows for the first time the potential of plastic microparticle transfer via planktonic organisms from one trophic level (mesozooplankton) to a higher level (macrozooplankton). The impacts of plastic transfer and possible accumulation in the food web need further investigations.
Article
Plastic waste is of increasing concern in marine ecosystems [1-3]. Buoyant plastic particles accumulate in pelagic habitats whereas non-floating debris accumulates on the seafloor and in beach sediments, posing risk to the respective communities [1-4]. Microplastic particles (<5 mm) are either directly introduced via sewage discharge or formed by biofouling and mechanical abrasion, making them more prone to consumption by aquatic organisms [2,3]. As a consequence, they can accumulate in higher trophic levels [3-5]. A variety of harmful effects of plastic and associated chemicals has been shown [2-4]. Moreover, plastic debris can act as vector for alien species and diseases [2,6]. A large portion of the plastic waste is produced onshore and reaches the marine environment, which is considered the main sink of plastic debris. There is, however, a considerable lack of knowledge on the contamination of freshwater ecosystems with plastic debris. We here show that freshwater ecosystems also act, at least temporarily, as a sink for plastic particles.
Article
Microplastics are small plastic particles (<1 mm) originating from the degradation of larger plastic debris. These microplastics have been accumulating in the marine environment for decades and have been detected throughout the water column and in sublittoral and beach sediments worldwide. However, up to now, it has never been established whether microplastic presence in sediments is limited to accumulation hot spots such as the continental shelf, or whether they are also present in deep-sea sediments. Here we show, for the first time ever, that microplastics have indeed reached the most remote of marine environments: the deep sea. We found plastic particles sized in the micrometre range in deep-sea sediments collected at four locations representing different deep-sea habitats ranging in depth from 1100 to 5000 m. Our results demonstrate that microplastic pollution has spread throughout the world's seas and oceans, into the remote and largely unknown deep sea.
Article
Plastic debris accumulates in the marine environment following its use in agricultural, industrial and social activities. Its ultimate fate is accomodation in sediments where it may persist for times up to centuries or longer. There appears to be an increasing flux of materials with time and an increased areal coverage of the benthos. Impacts upon bottom organisms can take many forms. Systematic monitoring tactics for the extent of seafloor coverage by plastics are yet to be incorporated into national programs.
Article
Until the invention of the electric telegraph, messages sent across the vast colonial empires of the nineteenth century took many months to arrive. By 1907, some 200,000 nautical miles of cable criss-crossed the ocean floors. Insulation of the cables from seawater relied on gutta-percha, a natural plastic related to rubber. Gutta-percha is all but forgotten today, but during the Victorian era it was a household word. Ironically, the high-tech Victorian telegraph industry was served by a primitive cottage industry. The gum was extracted by killing wild trees in the forests of Southeast Asia, and the scale of demand ensured that many millions of trees were destroyed. This industry brought about a Victorian ecological disaster that presaged the greater destruction of tropical rain forests occurring today.