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Foamed Polystyrene in the Marine Environment: Sources, Additives, Transport, Behavior, and Impacts

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Foamed polystyrene (PS) that may be either expanded (EPS) or extruded (XPS) is a rigid, lightweight insulating thermoplastic that has a variety of uses in the consumer, packaging, construction, and marine sectors. The properties of the material also result in waste that is readily generated, dispersed, and fragmented in the environment. This review focuses on foamed PS in the marine setting, including its sources, transport, degradation, acquisition of contaminants, ingestion by animals, and biological impacts arising from the mobilization of chemical additives. In the ocean, foamed PS is subject to wind-assisted transport and fracturing via photolytic degradation. The material may also act as a substrate for rafting organisms while being exposed to elevated concentrations of natural and anthropogenic surface-active chemicals in the sea surface microlayer. In the littoral setting, fragmentation is accentuated by milling in the swash zone and abrasion when beached, with wind transport leading to the temporary burial of significant quantities of material. Ingestion of EPS and XPS has been documented for a variety of marine animals, but principally those that feed at the sea surface or use the material as a habitat. As well as risking injuries due to gastro-intestinal blockage, ingestion of foamed PS exposes animals to harmful chemicals, and of greatest concern in this respect is the presence of the historical, but still recycled, flame-retardant, hexabromocyclododecane. Because foamed PS is particularly difficult to retrieve as a constituent of marine litter, means of reducing its presence and impacts will rely on the elimination of processes that generate foamed waste, modification of current storage and disposal practices, and the development of more durable and sustainable alternatives.
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Foamed Polystyrene in the Marine Environment: Sources, Additives,
Transport, Behavior, and Impacts
Andrew Turner*
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ABSTRACT: Foamed polystyrene (PS) that may be either expanded (EPS) or
extruded (XPS) is a rigid, lightweight insulating thermoplastic that has a variety
of uses in the consumer, packaging, construction, and marine sectors. The
properties of the material also result in waste that is readily generated, dispersed,
and fragmented in the environment. This review focuses on foamed PS in the
marine setting, including its sources, transport, degradation, acquisition of
contaminants, ingestion by animals, and biological impacts arising from the
mobilization of chemical additives. In the ocean, foamed PS is subject to wind-
assisted transport and fracturing via photolytic degradation. The material may
also act as a substrate for rafting organisms while being exposed to elevated
concentrations of natural and anthropogenic surface-active chemicals in the sea
surface microlayer. In the littoral setting, fragmentation is accentuated by milling
in the swash zone and abrasion when beached, with wind transport leading to
the temporary burial of signicant quantities of material. Ingestion of EPS and XPS has been documented for a variety of marine
animals, but principally those that feed at the sea surface or use the material as a habitat. As well as risking injuries due to gastro-
intestinal blockage, ingestion of foamed PS exposes animals to harmful chemicals, and of greatest concern in this respect is the
presence of the historical, but still recycled, ame-retardant, hexabromocyclododecane. Because foamed PS is particularly dicult to
retrieve as a constituent of marine litter, means of reducing its presence and impacts will rely on the elimination of processes that
generate foamed waste, modication of current storage and disposal practices, and the development of more durable and sustainable
alternatives.
1. INTRODUCTION
Marine pollution from plastics has received an enormous
amount of scientic, media, and public attention over the past
two decades. Studies on plastics have focused on methods of
sampling, sources, distributions, impacts on the environment
and on wildlife, and the uptake of pollutants, with a number of
reviews that attempt to synthesize research in each area or a
combination of areas.
14
For materials of comparable bulk
characteristics (e.g., density and crystallinity), distributions,
sinks, and physical impacts are expected to be broadly similar
and in most review articles plastics or microplastics are explicitly
or implicitly dened under a single umbrella. For foamed
plastics, however, densities are so much lower than unfoamed
equivalents that their behavior is distinctly dierent and they
should, strictly, be classied independently.
In the present paper, the focus is on one of the most important
and widely used types of foamed plastic, polystyrene (PS). This
material is a common component of marine litter and is
particularly problematic from both a local and transboundary
perspective.
59
Information and data are critically reviewed in
the scientic literature on the sources, chemical composition,
transport, fate, and impacts of foamed PS in the marine
environment. Where informative, comparisons are also made
with (unfoamed) polyethylene, another common component of
marine litter whose greater density ensures its pathways and
behavior are markedly dierent from foamed PS. The more
general challenges associated with the generation and disposal of
large quantities of foamed PS in society are addressed, and
current and proposed solutions to these problems are reviewed.
2. FOAMED PS: PRODUCTION, USES, WASTE, AND
MARINE LITTERING
PS is a rigid, amorphous thermoplastic produced by free radical
vinyl polymerization of styrene. The structure of the polymer
can be written thus: [CH2CH(C6H5)]n; where C6H5is a
pendant phenyl group which restricts rotation and is responsible
for many of the physical and mechanical properties of the
polymer. Both expanded PS (EPS) and extruded PS (XPS) are
forms of the polymer that contain a high proportion of air
(>95%).
10,11
EPS is produced when the raw, pelletized material
Received: May 19, 2020
Revised: August 5, 2020
Accepted: August 5, 2020
Published: August 5, 2020
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is expanded by heating with steam to form cellular beads. Dried
particles are then fused under steam and molded into blocks or
other shapes, with beads of 25 mm in diameter clearly visible in
the nal product. The air within and between the beads gives
EPS its insulating properties but interparticle air, as irregular
gaps or voids, renders the material susceptible to (limited) water
absorption. XPS is formed when PS crystals, additives, and
blowing agents are extruded at high temperature to produce a
frothy liquid that is subsequently shaped in a die as it cools and
expands. XPS consists of tightly packed cells that have no gaps or
voids between them. This closed structure inhibits water
absorption and results in a smoother surface and a higher
density than EPS. Note that Styrofoam is often used
synonymously with foamed PS but is, strictly, a trademarked
brand of XPS produced for building insulation by Dow
Chemical.
Foamed PS is commonly employed in home and appliance
insulation, protective packaging, automobile parts, embankment
lling, lightweight concrete (as an aggregate), and food
packaging;
11,12
with regard to the construction sector, XPS is
favored over EPS where pressure, stability, and humidity are
especially high.
13
The durability, low density, and insulating
properties of foamed PS have also resulted in many applications
in the marine sector. Here, EPS (and less frequently, XPS) are
used in sh boxes, buoys, pontoons, oating docks, net oats, life
jackets, surfboards, and boat stands.
1417
As a tethered oating
base, EPS is used directly, or for greater durability, may be
coated or covered by hard plastic or cement.
13
Because of growing demand and extensive use on land and at
sea, coupled with recycling that is constrained by bulk and
contamination (by food, for example), foamed PS represents an
important form of waste. European data for 2016/2017 suggest
that waste generation of foamed PS from construction and
packaging was about 530 000 tonnes, with a recycling rate of
27% in total for EPS (and 34% for single use packaging waste and
8% for construction waste) and energy recovery by incineration
as the most common method for its disposal.
13
Loss of foamed PS to the environment may occur via the
transport, storage, or cutting of construction material, escape-
ment of waste from controlled and historical landll, storage or
compaction of waste before or during disposal or recycling,
deterioration or loss of structures in situ, and littering and y
tipping. Waste enters the marine environment through rivers,
stormwater, and wastewater treatment plants, and from direct
littering and loss or structural damage at sea or in the littoral
zone. Not only is foamed PS a signicant contributor to marine
litter worldwide,
9,1824
its lightness and low density, ready
transportation by the wind, and propensity to readily fragment
ensure that it disperses more widely and rapidly than other forms
of (unfoamed) plastic, both at sea and when beached.
8,25,26
With
small fragments readily blown around by the wind when dry and
adhering to surfaces when wet, foamed PS is also particularly
dicult to retrieve during beach cleans.
The images in Figure 1 exemplify some of the uses of foamed
PS that may directly impact on the marine environment, along
with the volume, nature, and consequences of secondary
(fragmented) particles that can be readily washed up and
blown around. Material illustrated here ranges in size from EPS
beads of a few mm in diameter to slabs greater than 1 m across.
However, empirical studies suggest that, ultimately, weathering
may produce spherical and elongated particles of dimensions
down to hundreds of nm.
27
3. TRANSPORT AND PHYSICAL BEHAVIOR IN THE
MARINE ENVIRONMENT
The properties of foamed PS that are of relevance to its behavior
and fate in the marine environment are shown in Table 1. Here,
data are indicative and are based on the properties of a specic
brand or a range of brands of EPS, which is far better
characterized than XPS in the literature. Note, however, that in
general, XPS has a slightly higher density, greater tensile, impact,
and compressive strengths, and lower water absorption than
EPS.
28
Figure 1. Foamed PS captured around or retrieved from the coast of
southwest England. (a) An abundance of EPS and XPS among litter
along the strandline; (b) EPS remains of a weather balloon; (c) a
discarded EPS surfboard; (d) stacked EPS slabs used as boat stands; (e)
fouled and rounded fragments of beached EPS and XPS litter; (f) EPS
beads scattered at the base of a cli. Photographs courtesy of Claire
Wallerstein and Tracey Williams.
Table 1. Properties of Foamed PS of Relevance to the
Discussion
a
property mean ±1 sd or range source
Physical
density 0.01 to 0.19 g cm310
permeability 0.5 to 3.5 29
water absorption 0.03 to 9.0% 29
pore volume 0.02 ±0.005 cm3g130
average pore diameter 39.3 ±0.5 nm 30
Mechanical
tensile strength, ultimate 0.08 to 0.91 MPa 29
compressive yield strength 0.069 to 10.9 MPa 29
tear strength 1.05 to 5.29 kN m129
Surface
BET specic surface area 2.03 ±0.04 m2g130
point of zero charge 4.7 ±0.2 30
a
Data are shown for a single, unspecied EPS product or a range of
EPS products.
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3.1. In the Ocean. The following discussion focuses on
oating and fragmented foamed PS in the ocean, with the eects
and forcing mechanisms acting upon this type of litter
conceptualized in Figure 2 as an aid to the narrative.
One of the key dierences in the transport of plastics having a
density slightly lower than seawater (like polyethylene without
any inclusions of air) to those having a density signicantly lower
than seawater and oating at the surface (foamed plastics) is the
inuence of windage, or drift due to wind forces.
31
Specically,
and neglecting any phenomena incurred by viscous forces, wind
pressure acting on the upper (sail) surface of a particle is
opposed by the drag force applied to its lower, submerged
(drag) surface, with the ratio of sail and drag surface areas
dependent on particle and uid densities and determining the
magnitude of windage. The high buoyancy of foamed PS also
confers a relatively low oating stability, especially if objects are
rounded. Thus, because the center of gravity is well above the sea
surface, objects tend to repeatedly change position and
orientation during transportation.
33
The eect of windage on the ocean transport of foamed PS of
density = 0.05 g cm3and polyethylene of density = 0.95 g cm3
was considered theoretically by Chubarenko et al.
32
Specically,
calculations were performed for spherical particles (of any
diameter) carried in inviscid (Baltic) seawater of density 1.01 g
cm3and with a current speed, vc, of 0.3 m s1that were subject
to a wind blowing in the same direction at a speed, vw,of10m
s1. The drift speeds for PS and polyethylene, vPS, and vPE, were
estimated to be about 1.2 m s1and 0.4 m s1, respectively, or
four times and 25% higher than vc. In other words, and under
these environmental conditions, foamed PS whose density is not
signicantly modied by fouling (see below) is predicted to
travel three times faster in seawater than polyethylene.
An additional consequence of foamed PS residing at the sea
surface is that it is exposed to a greater amount of sunlight than
plastics that are less buoyant and, through turbulence, are
transported in the bulk medium.
34
Moreover, the aromatic
backbone of PS acts as an eective absorber of solar radiation in
the ultraviolet (UV) region.
35
Absorption of sunlight causes
cleavage of polymer chains by chain scission, with styrene
monomers the principal product of degradation.
36
Resulting
embrittlement of the foamed PS surface causes fracturing and,
eventually, fragmentation.
8
Experiments performed by Song et
al.
37
showed that two months of exposure to UV light generated
by a metal-halide lamp was sucient to break EPS beads (20
mm3) into microfragments, thereby exposing new surfaces to
UV radiation and promoting further degradation. A recent study
conducted by Zhu et al.
38
compared the degradation of
postconsumer EPS under simulated solar radiation with that
of other plastics (including polyethylene). Based on mass loss
over the experimental period employed, the authors estimated
lifetimes of 2.7 years for EPS and 33 years for polyethylene. By
comparison, microbial biodegradation of foamed PS can be
considered almost negligible over such timeframes.
39
Figure 2. Conceptual representation of the eects and forcing mechanisms acting on a foamed PS sphere in the ocean.
Figure 3. Conceptual representation of the eects and forcing mechanisms acting on foamed PS fragments in the sandy littoral zone.
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3.2. in the Littoral Zone. Ultimately, a signicant fraction
of both oceanic and land-derived foamed PS will end up in the
littoral zone, including mangroves, beaches, and rocky
shores.
19,20,24
The eects and forcing mechanisms acting upon
this type of litter on a sandy shoreline are conceptualized in
Figure 3 as an aid to the following discussion.
When beached, both photolytic and thermal degradation of
foamed PS are accentuated because signicantly higher
temperatures are possible in sand compared with seawater.
8
Moreover, mechanical fragmentation is highly favorable here
because wind-driven transport engenders frictional forces and
collisional impacts on material of inherently low tensile strength
(Table 1). For example, experiments that exposed EPS beads to
UV radiation under a metal-halide lamp for 12 months and
subsequently subjected them to mechanical abrasion (through
agitation with sand) resulted in the majority of the original
particle volume becoming fragmented to sizes too small (<1
μm) to be detected.
37,40
Mechanical fragmentation of foamed PS also takes place in the
swash zone where litter already weakened by photolytic
processes is milledwith sand and pebbles as it is transported
under dynamic, asymmetrical wave motion. Chubarenko and
co-workers
41,42
conducted experiments in which plastics,
including EPS, were subject to simulated swash conditions for
24 h in the presence of sand, gravel, and pebbles. Results
revealed that material was smoothed, polished, torn, and
fragmented and that, although impaction of EPS with pebbles
was low compared with other plastics because of the high
buoyancy of the material, these interactions resulted in the
greatest number of fragmented particles. Signicantly, despite
the low density of EPS, some beads formed on fragmentation
became attached to or trapped-buried by the sediment. The
burial and subsequent compaction of EPS beads also appears to
take place on more landward reaches of a beach. Here, material
blown against a physical barrier along with other light plastics is
subsequently buried by accumulations of drifting sand.
4. COMPOSITION AND CHEMICAL MODIFICATION OF
FOAMED PS IN THE MARINE ENVIRONMENT
Although the general behavior of foamed PS in the oceans and
when beached has been addressed above, the precise impacts of
the material in the marine setting are likely to be inuenced by
the presence, concentrations, and mobilities of the monomer
(styrene), oligomers, reaction residues, and additives in the
matrix, and any chemicals and contaminants that have been
acquired from the environment.
Residues in foamed PS include Fe2O3, used as a catalyst in the
production of styrene,
43
and Zn stearate, often used to ensure
uniform cell nucleation in the production of EPS.
44
Additives are
sometimes applied as a thin surface nish for protection but
most are usually blended or molded into the raw material to
ensure uniform concentration and are tailored to the specic
requirements and applications of the material. For instance,
addition of graphite can improve insulation properties of
construction boards, various pigments may be employed to
impart a range of dierent colors, and TiO2may be added to
assist bacterial decomposition or as a pigment to provide a high
refractive index.
13,45
Plasticizers and biocides are not generally
used in foamed PS but the stabilizer and antioxidant tris(4-
nonylphenyl) phosphite, a source of the endocrine-disrupting
nonylphenols, is sometimes added.
46
Traces of other organic
additives in EPS have also been mentioned or implied but have
not been identied.
47,48
However, because of the inherent
ammability of foamed PS the most commonly employed
additives are ame-retardants.
4.1. Hexabromocyclododecane. Flame-retardants are
added to foamed PS destined for the construction industry
but are also encountered in packaging material because one
grade of material may be adopted for all production.
13
The most
important ame-retardant used in EPS and XPS since the 1980s
has been 1,2,5,6,9,10-hexabromocyclododecane (HBCD),
4951
whose physical, chemical, environmental, and toxicological
properties that are relevance to the discussion are given in Table
S1. HBCD is added at concentrations that are low relative to
those of other halogenated compounds used to ame-retard
plastics; specically, typical HBCD concentrations range from
about 0.7 to 2.5% by weight of the raw product, with XPS usually
containing more of the retardant than EPS.
52
Moreover, and
unlike ame-retarded plastics more generally and including
polyethylene, foamed PS impregnated with HBCD does not
require the addition of antimony trioxide (Sb2O3) as a synergist
to meet various building code specications.
53
On health and
environmental grounds, however, HBCD was recently added to
Annex A of persistent organic pollutants in the Stockholm
Convention that require elimination,
54
eectively banning the
production and use of the compound in PS foams for
buildings.
55
The EU has also since introduced a low
concentration limit of 0.1% (1000 mg kg1) by weight for
certain brominated compounds, including HBCD, above which
items may not be recycled, and a limit of 0.01% (100 mg kg1)
above which products are not permitted for sale.
56
Recent focus has been on alternative ame-retardants, resins,
or designs for foamed polystyrene, with halogen-free retardants
considered best for the environment and human health.
57
However, despite the restrictions on HBCD, the ame-retardant
continues to be reported in an array of foamed PS consumer
products where re suppression is neither required nor desired,
including food-contact articles and general purpose packaging,
suggesting a continuing uncontrolled use or recycling of the
chemical.
58,59
Moreover, it has been forecast that the amount of
construction and demolition waste containing HBCD will
continue to increase until 2050.
13
The historical use and contemporary recycling of HBCD,
together with its persistence in the marine environment, are also
reected by its presence in foamed PS encountered in beach
litter and functional maritime constructions throughout the
ocean.
60,61
For example, in the north Pacic, HBCD was
detected in nearly all samples analyzed (n> 200) that had been
collected after the chemical was listed in the Stockholm
Convention, with concentrations ranging from 0.05 to 14 500
mg kg1.
61
Some of the highest concentrations, and well above
the EU low concentration limit, were reported for aquaculture
buoys where ame-retardancy is clearly unnecessary. Signi-
cantly, because HBCD is not covalently bonded to the polymer,
mobilization into the environment gradually takes place,
62
with a
lipophilicity (log Kow = 5.6
63
) ensuring that it will readily bind
with organic matter and concentrate in organisms.
4.2. Styrene. In theory, the polymerization of styrene results
in repeating monomer units that are covalently bonded and
dicult to break. In practice, however, this process is incomplete
and the styrene monomer and oligomers may contaminate the
nal foamed PS product.
Styrene monomer released from PS is highly reactive toward
cell systems and causes widespread metabolic damage, raising
concerns about its migration from foamed PS packaging into
food.
46
In the environment, however, the monomer is rapidly
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volatilized and readily degraded and is not considered to
bioaccumulate.
64
On the other hand, the oligomers of styrene
appear to present a very low risk to consumers through food
packaging but are less mobile and more persistent in the
environment,
65
with the latter characteristics aording a
potential means of assessing contemporary and historical
pollution by PS.
66
For example, Kwon et al.
67
measured various
styrene-based contaminants (including the trimer, 2,4, 6-
triphenyl-1-hexene, and the dimer, 2,4-diphenyl-1-butene) in
coastal seawater and beach sand collected from dierent parts of
the world and found that combined concentrations were variable
but highest (and up to about 30 μgL
1in seawater and 30 mg
kg1in sand) along the most populated coastlines. Distributions
were attributed to the leaching of the oligomers from weathered,
foamed PS on beaches and their subsequent adsorption onto
sand, with transfer to seawater taking place via desorption from
contaminated sand or more directly through the leaching of the
chemicals from oating PS litter. A more recent study suggested
that oligomer concentrations in coastal seawater may also be
augmented by inputs from contaminated catchment runo.
68
4.3. Surface Modication of Foamed PS and Acquis-
ition of Environmental Contaminants. The weathering and
chemical and biological fouling of foamed PS, evident in Figure
1e, result in signicant modications to the polymer surface. For
example, measurements made by Zhang et al.
30
on virgin and
beached EPS revealed an increase in specic surface area (from
about 2 to 8 m2g1), micropore area (from <0.1 to 0.5 m2g1),
and point of zero charge (from 4.7 to 5.0) on weathering; by
comparison, the specic surface area of aged polyethylene is just
0.13 m2g1.
69
Not only do these characteristics confer a greater
reactivity in the aqueous medium, the high positive buoyancy of
foamed PS ensures that it is persistently exposed to a wide array
of chemicals in the sea surface microlayer (Figure 2). This is a
skin of water of 11000 μm thick enriched in various inorganic
salts, hydrophobic or surface-active biogenic compounds, fuels
and oils, and various trace contaminants of low solubility or that
have been deposited from the atmosphere.
70,71
Specically,
concentrations of some pollutants, like chlorinated hydro-
carbons and heavy metals, may be up to 500 times higher in the
microlayer compared with the underlying bulk water column.
72
Hydrophobic chemicals have a propensity to interact with the
embrittled and fractured PS surface
47
and, while metal ions are
known to readily adsorb onto hydrogenous precipitates on
polyethylene,
7375
this has yet to be empirically demonstrated
for foamed PS.
The acquisition of chemicals from the environment and the
more general biological fouling also act to increase the net
density of foamed PS. However, and in contrast to unfoamed
plastics, this increase is not likely to be sucient to cause a
signicant shift in buoyancy or eect sinking unless particles are
considerably smaller than the diameter of component PS cells.
76
5. IMPACTS ON MARINE ORGANISMS
Foamed PS does not represent a signicant risk of entanglement
to marine wildlife but can exert impacts through ingestion and
interaction.
IngestionoffoamedPSmayarisedirectlyfromthe
inadvertent consumption of material mistaken for food that is
oating in the water column, deposited on beaches, trapped in
macroalgae, or acting as a substrate-habitat, and indirectly via
the consumption of contaminated prey. Consequently, ingestion
has been documented in the stomach contents or fecal matter of
a range of marine animals, including crustaceans, sh, birds,
turtles, and mammals, and as exemplied in Table 2. Seabirds in
particular are commonly observed to consume foamed PS
because oating fragments are similar in size and color to normal
prey items like sh, sh eggs, and larvae.
90
Birds that feed by
dipping, uttering above the surface, surface plunging, surface
seizing, and scavenging are most likely to inadvertently ingest a
material. In addition, distinctive marks on fragments of EPS and
XPS retrieved from the shore suggest that some birds, including
fulmars and gulls, peck at foamed PS, resulting in the ingestion of
small particles.
91,92
Pecking may be practiced out of curiosity or
through confusion with the brittle and bright white, internal
shells of cuttlesh that act as a supplemental source of calcium
carbonate.
Many of the broad physical impacts resulting from the
ingestion of foamed PS are likely to be common to those
resulting from the ingestion of other plastics. These include
intestinal blockage and injury to the digestive tract, with
potential longer-term eects involving reduced body weight and
tness and slower growth. However, given foamed PSs relatively
low density, smooth surface, high exibility, and propensity to
fragment, these impacts may be less severe or long-lasting than
those eected by harder and sharper plastics like polyethylene.
Plastic manufactured or fragmented to dimensions on the order
of a few μm or less (nanoplastics) may also be captured by
organisms as small as zooplankton and, in many cases, undergo
internalization and translocation.
93
Regular industrial (un-
foamed) PS nanoparticles (density 1.1 g cm3) have been
frequently studied through in vitro cultures with crustaceans,
invertebrates, and sh and have resulted in a range of adverse
eects, including delayed growth, repressed immunity, histo-
pathological changes, behavioral changes, and decreased
reproduction.
9497
It remains unclear, however, as to whether
these eects can be extrapolated to positively buoyant foamed
PS should fragments be weathered down into nanoplastic
dimensions.
Table 2. Examples of Reports of the Ingestion of Foamed PS
by Marine Wildlife
animal location material
description reference
black footed albatross Central Pacic foam,
including PS 77
laysan albatross Central Pacic foam,
including PS 77
atlantic ghost crab Southwest Atlantic XPS 78
sand hopper Mediterranean EPS 79
blue mussel English Channel foamed PS 80
gooseneck barnacles North Pacic
Subtropical Gyre foamed PS 81
kelp gull Southwest Atlantic foamed PS 82
red-footed booby South China Sea foamed PS 83
various albatrosses and
petrels South Atlantic foamed PS 84
northern fulmar Northeast Pacic Styrofoam 85
northern fulmar Northeast Atlantic expanded PS 86
green turtle Southwest Atlantic XPS 87
loggerhead turtle Southwest Atlantic XPS 87
narrow-ridged nless
porpoise Yellow Sea-Bohai Sea foamed PS 88
elephant seal Northeast Pacic Styrofoam 89
steller sea lion Northeast Pacic Styrofoam 89
polychaete worms Yellow Sea EPS 101
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An additional impact resulting from ingestion of foamed PS is
the exposure to chemicals associated with the material through
manufacturing or acquisition from the environment. Exposure is
normally evaluated in vitro by subjecting test material to
conditions that mimic the digestive environment and measuring
chemical mobilization or bioaccessibility (as an upper bound
estimate of bioavailability). Con et al.
48
determined the
quantities of various organic additives released from 16 dierent
plastics subjected to solutions representative of the digestive
environments of sh and seabirds as well as the estrogen-
receptor activities of the resulting extracts using an in vitro cell
line. Biological estrogenicity was signicantly enhanced by
extracts of three plastics (including EPS) in both digestive
solutions but the precise additives or residues responsible were
not among the chemicals characterized by the authors. Turner
and Lau
60
report that neither Br (a proxy for HBCD) nor Zn
(indicative of Zn stearate) were detected by ICP in extracts of
aged, beached EPS subjected to a simulated avian digest, but that
Fe oxide was measurably mobilized (presumably together with
any contaminants associated with this phase) from the fouled
surface. More sensitive HPLC analysis of HBCD in EPS buoys
maintained in dark seawater, however, reveal that the
brominated ame-retardant is slowly mobilized from the
plastic
62
and, therefore, has the potential to be released under
harsher digestive conditions of sea birds and other animals.
Interactions refer to a variety of impacts arising from contact
of marine organisms with the material as an abiotic substrate and
that can also, ultimately, result in plastic ingestion. For instance,
certain organisms are able to colonize foamed PS as a rafting
substrate, an eect that was originally documented for bacteria
growing on EPS beads in the coastal waters of New England.
98
More recently, Carson et al.
99
determined concentrations of
bacteria up to 12 000 mm2on EPS fragments retrieved from the
North Pacic Gyre; by comparison, maximum bacteria
concentrations on polyethylene fragments from the same region
were <5000 mm2. It has been proposed that the initial
colonization of foamed PS is more favorable than on unfoamed
plastics because the greater rugosity of the former facilitates
adhesion and aords protection.
33
Foamed PS, however,
displays relatively low species richness because of oating
instability; that is, multiple positional changes that incur
frequent exposure to air and direct sunlight negatively aect
broader colonization.
33
Consequently, free-oating, foamed PS
likely acts as rafting and dispersing substrate for a limited
number of organisms that grow during initial stages of
community succession.
Jang et al.
100
describe marine mussels, Mytilus galloprovincia-
lis, inhabiting the EPS of tethered aquaculture buoys othe
coast of South Korea and demonstrated that HBCD is
transferred from the substrate to the bivalve with resultant
lipid weight concentrations of up to 5.2 mg kg1. The authors
suggest that HBCD is bioaccumulated through the direct
ingestion of fragmented EPS particles and via leaching of the
chemical and its subsequent adsorption onto food particulates.
Aquaculture buoy EPS also hosts a variety of polychaete worms,
both at the surface and, via burrowing, within the internal
structure.
101
Worms generate and subsequently consume debris,
with an average of over 100 EPS particles reported in the
digestive tracts of burrowing individuals.
Filter-feeding sphaeromatid isopods excavate burrows for
their habitat and dense colonies are known to cause extensive
damage to oating docks constructed of EPS.
102
Burrowing may
release large fragments of EPS that disperse isopods and are
responsible for the generation of signicant quantities of
microplastics. Laboratory experiments conducted by David-
son
103
suggest that individual bioeroders can create several
thousand particles when excavating a burrow, which is
equivalent to 100 000 organisms per m3creating over 400
million particles. Microplastics may then be ingested by a range
of organisms, including those that are cultured near to oats for
human consumption.
Biotic interactions with foamed PS also take place in reaches
of the littoral zone that are never inundated but where debris
from both marine sources and beach littering may accumulate.
Poeta et al.
25
found that certain dunal plants were able to
perforate EPS debris on a sandy beach situated along the
Tyrrhenian coast of Italy. Although these observations were
attributed to opportunistic events, the authors suggested that the
thermal, mechanical, and water absorbing properties of EPS may
be generally favorable for this kind of interaction and that the
phenomenon might be more widespread on a global scale.
6. EMERGING SOLUTIONS TO FOAMED PS WASTE
GENERATION AND DISPOSAL
The discussions above highlight the problems of foamed PS in
the marine environment arising from the quantity and diversity
of applications of the material, its low density, ready
fragmentation and dispersal in the ocean and littoral environ-
ments, the presence of harmful additives, and diculty in
retrieval of waste through, for example, beach cleans. Ultimately,
countering these problems requires a reduction in the usage of
foamed PS, modication or replacement of the material, or
better management and recycling of PS-bearing waste.
Alternative materials to or designs of foamed PS require an
ability to perform same function (e.g., insulation, re-retardancy,
strength, otation) and yet be cost-eective, long-lasting, and/or
more environmentally sustainable throughout their life cycle.
Examples that are becoming popular or that have been tested but
are not widely employed are reported by Lassen et al.
13,104
In the
construction sector, alternative materials are mineral and glass
wools, phenolic foams, natural bers,perlite,andwood
berboards, with a modication of foamed PS that requires
less material to obtain equivalent insulation achieved by the
addition of graphite. Elsewhere, alternatives include corrugated
cardboard for single use products, with polyethylene or
polyethylene terephthalate lining where water absorption may
be a problem, inated air packets or molded pulp loose ll for
single-use packaging, expanded polypropylene (a more robust
foamed plastic) for multiuse packaging, and higher density EPS
to enhance abrasion-resistance. In cities, states, and municipal-
ities where restrictions or bans on single-use foamed PS products
are in place, many compostable or readily recyclable alternatives
have been introduced.
19,105,106
Such alternatives also need to be
considered for Europe where legislation is being drafted
(Directive 2019/904, planned to be eective from July 2021)
to ban single-use plastics that include EPS-XPS food and
beverage containers.
9
(In the UK, recent legislation bans specic
single use plastics but thus far no specic mention is made of
foamed PS products
107
).
In the marine sector, modicationsoralternativesto
conventional oats and buoys include air-lled plastics, plastic-
coated EPS, or EPS contained by netting.
108
However, there are
additional problems with these constructions, such as increased
cost, diculties in tying to other structures, and enhanced
biofouling. Incentive schemes for aquaculture farmers and
shermen to retrieve oating devices constructed of EPS have
Environmental Science & Technology pubs.acs.org/est Critical Review
https://dx.doi.org/10.1021/acs.est.0c03221
Environ. Sci. Technol. 2020, 54, 1041110420
10416
been trialed in Taiwan but have proven only partly successful,
with suggestions that the imposition of a mandatory recovery
rate might be more eective.
26
Aside from the potential presence
of HBCD in marine EPS, however, contamination of recovered
material by, for example, salt, sand, oil, and chemical
precipitates, precludes it from being recycled.
The construction and demolition industries generate
signicant quantities of foamed PS waste and fugitive particles
through a variety of routes, including board cutting, and the
storage and transport of material and ocuts. Measures to
minimize the escapement of foamed PS from this sector include
making employers more aware of environmental damage caused
by the material, use of hot wires for cutting, careful separation of
demolition waste, covering and securing waste containers, and
incentivizing the return of unused material to the manufac-
turer.
13
Demolition waste is of greater concern than
contemporary construction waste because of the higher
probability of material containing HBCD.
109
The presence of
this additive may also pose challenges and constraints on how
the material can be disposed of and recycled. Rapid screening
methods based on portable X-ray uorescence spectrometry
have been developed that detect the presence and solubility of
Br in foamed PS (HBCD is solvent-extractable while newer,
saferbrominated compounds are not).
110
These methods
could assist with decisions concerning the fate of demolition
waste on site or as a waste disposal input control but to date
these do not appear to have been applied on an industrial scale.
To summarize, foamed PS has a number of distinctive
properties that renders it highly favorable for a wide range of
applications across multiple sectors. However, it is this usage and
these characteristics that ensure large quantities of foamed PS
waste enter the marine environment and present a diversity of
pervasive impacts. The chemical and biological risks of foamed
PS are further compounded by the widespread occurrence of
HBCD in historical and recycled products. Recommendations
to reduce these risks and impacts relate to better management of
foamed PS throughout its life cycle and replacing the material
with more durable and sustainable alternatives. Refs 77 and 78.
ASSOCIATED CONTENT
*
sıSupporting Information
The Supporting Information is available free of charge at
https://pubs.acs.org/doi/10.1021/acs.est.0c03221.
Table S1 provides information on the physicochemical
and environmental properties of hexabromocyclodode-
cane (PDF)
AUTHOR INFORMATION
Corresponding Author
Andrew Turner School of Geography, Earth and
Environmental Sciences, University of Plymouth, Plymouth PL4
8AA, U.K.; orcid.org/0000-0003-0505-4561;
Email: aturner@plymouth.ac.uk
Complete contact information is available at:
https://pubs.acs.org/10.1021/acs.est.0c03221
Notes
The author declares no competing nancial interest.
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
This review benetted greatly from discussions with Claire
Wallerstein and Rob Arnold (Rame Peninsula Beach Care,
Torpoint) and Tracey Williams (Lost At Sea Project, Newquay),
and the comments from three anonymous reviewers.
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... Two studies have reported that isopods and polychaetes cause significant changes in the structure and function of expanded polystyrene (commonly known as Styrofoam) floats through mechanical boring at shorelines or in the laboratory (Davidson, 2012;Jang et al., 2018). Among the many plastic materials, foamed polystyrene (PS) is a good insulator because it is inexpensive, extremely light, impactresistant, and waterproof (Turner, 2020). Because of these advantages, it is frequently used in buoys, floats, and pontoons in aquaculture and fisheries. ...
... Because of these advantages, it is frequently used in buoys, floats, and pontoons in aquaculture and fisheries. Owing to growing demand, extensive use, and frequent renewal, foamed PS represents a critical component of plastic waste in marine aquaculture areas (Turner, 2020). Foamed PS is an ideal example for studying the role of biotic factors in the fragmentation of large plastics. ...
... The rate of plastic fragmentation in water may be lower than that in air (Alimi et al., 2018;Julienne et al., 2019;Turner, 2020). Fully simulating the complexities of the natural environment in a laboratory setting is difficult. ...
Article
Secondary microplastics originate from the fragmentation of large plastics, and weathering is supposed to be the main cause of fragmentation. In this study, we investigated burrows and burrowing invertebrates on Styrofoam floats from the mariculture areas of China’s coastal waters. Various burrows were found on the submerged surface of Styrofoam floats and could be divided into ‘I’, ‘S’, ‘J’, and ‘Y’ types based on the burrow entrance number and passage curvature. Different invertebrate species, including 5 isopods, 8 clamworms, and 12 crabs, were found inside the burrows. Micro-foams were found in the bodies of these burrowers, with an average abundance of 4.2 ± 0.3 (isopod), 6.9 ± 2.0 (clamworm), and 3.0 ± 0.5 (crab) micro-foams per individual. In the laboratory, we observed the boring process of crabs in abandoned floats. Field and laboratory evidence suggested that these invertebrates bored various burrows. The total volume of crab burrows on a 3-year-used float was estimated to be 2.6 × 103 cm3, producing 4.1 × 108 microplastics. This study highlights the critical role of bioerosion in destroying man-made substrates and prompting microplastic pollution.
... The EPS contains a high proportion of air (> 95%), therefore it is easily spreads by air in their distribution over long distances (Turner, 2020). In the nature expanded polystyrene products becomes microplastics by fragmentation due to mechanical damage or ultraviolet radiation (Arthur et al. 2009;Carson 2013;Turner 2020). ...
... The EPS contains a high proportion of air (> 95%), therefore it is easily spreads by air in their distribution over long distances (Turner, 2020). In the nature expanded polystyrene products becomes microplastics by fragmentation due to mechanical damage or ultraviolet radiation (Arthur et al. 2009;Carson 2013;Turner 2020). EPS product could fragment to separate spheres of size 2-5 mm, which subsequently degraded to a smaller size. ...
... For example, 10 µm polystyrene microplastics inhibited steroidogenesis in female marine medaka Oryzias melastigma, delayed ovarian maturation and reduced fertility(Wang et al. 2019). Being on the surface of the water, foam polystyrene accumulates other organic substances(Turner 2020). Also surface of polystyrene successfully colonized by some species of bacteria(Carson et al. 2013), that may affect digestion. ...
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The climbing perch Anabas testudineus is widespread in the inland waters of Vietnam and according to its ecology could have contact with a floating plastic waste. The fragments of expanded polystyrene (EPS) detected into the fresh waters of Vietnam in Khanh Hoa, Lam Dong, Phu Yen provinces. Our study was focused on estimation of probability of ingestion of EPS pellets (size 2.5–3.5 mm) by adult climbing perch. In the experiments three types of treatment pellets were proposed to fish: 24 feed pellets (Fp), 24 expanded polystyrene pellets (Pp), 12 feed & 12 expanded polystyrene pellets (FPp). Fish grasping time of first pellet was independent in all treatment types. The time grasping of 12th pellet was insignificant in Fp (63 s) and Pp (75 s). Climbing perch was grasping and ingesting of 24th Fp significantly (p = 0.02) earlier (143 s), than grasping of 24th Pp (817 s). Fish with FPp treatment was grasping feed along with EPS pellets, but grasping of 12th Fp was significantly (p = 0.02) earlier (49 s), then 12th Pp (193 s). By the end of tests fish ingested all feed pellets. We discovered that climbing perch grasped Pp and kept them in oral cavity, but always rejected them in 100% cases. This result evidenced that climbing perch has effective defense mechanism avoiding ingestion of expanded polystyrene pellets with size 2.5–3.5 mm, which realized by taste system and tactile reception of fish.
... A number of seabird species have been known to peck, displace, and ingest various plastic items, including expanded polystyrene (Lenzi et al. 2016;Turner 2020;Lopes et al. 2021). While the reasons that prompt seabirds such as gulls to peck or ingest polystyrene items have often remained conjectural (e.g. ...
... Occasionally high levels of polystyrene pecking in offshore waters may be an emerging or formerly overlooked phenomenon in this portion of the Mediterranean Sea, which may be related in part to increased use and environmental availability of polystyrene materials in recent decades (Worm et al. 2017;Geyer 2020). Understanding the causal factors behind polystyrene pecking could help identify the most appropriate management measures to mitigate any damage-either to the seabirds, to the fisheries involved, or to the marine environment (Turner 2020(Turner , 2021. ...
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A number of seabird species have been known to peck, displace, and ingest various plastic items including expanded polystyrene, for reasons that remain largely conjectural. Ingestion of polystyrene parts potentially causes lethal or sublethal effects on birds. Pecking can also result in the damage of polystyrene items, resulting in increased market turnover and environmental build-up, or economic consequences for stakeholders. In January and February, 2022, fishers in a portion of the western Adriatic Sea coast reported pecking damage caused by gulls (Laridae) to polystyrene buoys used to float, signal, and retrieve static fishing nets and traps. We investigated the magnitude of this phenomenon in four fishing harbours of Italy by scoring damage to 470 buoys and interviewing 29 fishers (encompassing 42% of the relevant fleet). Information was complemented by opportunistic observations at sea. Our preliminary assessment suggests that offshore polystyrene pecking increases in winter months, and it occurs sporadically among years. The overall economic damage to the static net fishery appeared generally modest (approximately 3–4 Euro to replace one buoy), with wide variations in the extent of reported damage. We reviewed the hypotheses behind polystyrene pecking, but none of them provide a clear explanation for the observed behaviour. Finally, we discuss potential effects on seabirds and advocate monitoring to investigate causal factors and mitigate damage to seabirds, fisheries, and marine environment.
... During beach cleanup, PS resin proved especially difficult to remove. More significantly, it has been seen to have an impact on many sorts of marine species that float-eat on the water's surface, such as clogging the gastrointestinal tract or exposing the animal to hazardous compounds (Turner, 2020). ...
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The occurrence and characterization of marine debris on beaches bring opportunities to track back the anthropogenic activities around shorelines as well as aid in waste management and control. In this study, the three largest beaches in Thanh Hoa (Vietnam) were examined for plastic waste, including macroplastics (≥ 5 mm) on sandy beaches and microplastics (MPs) (< 5 mm) in surface water. Among 3803 items collected on the beaches, plastic waste accounted for more than 98%. The majority of the plastic wastes found on these beaches were derived from fishing boats and food preservation foam packaging. The FT-IR data indicated that the macroplastics comprised 77% polystyrene, 17% polypropylene, and 6% high-density polyethylene, while MPs discovered in surface water included other forms of plastics such as polyethylene- acrylate, styrene/butadiene rubber gasket, ethylene/propylene copolymer, and zein purified. FT-IR data demonstrated that MPs might also be originated from automobile tire wear, the air, and skincare products, besides being degraded from macroplastics. The highest abundance of MPs was 44.1 items/m3 at Hai Tien beach, while the lowest was 15.5 items/m3 at Sam Son beach. The results showed that fragment form was the most frequent MP shape, accounting for 61.4 ± 14.3% of total MPs. MPs with a diameter smaller than 500 μm accounted for 70.2 ± 7.6% of all MPs. According to our research, MPs were transformed, transported, and accumulated due to anthropogenic activities and environmental processes. This study provided a comprehensive knowledge of plastic waste, essential in devising long-term development strategies in these locations.
... Traces or residues of consumption of foamed PS was also found in the stomach contents or feces of a variety of aquatic creatures, such as fish, crustaceans, turtles, birds, and mammals. As floating fragments are quite identical in size and color to conventional food items like fish eggs, larvae, and fish, foamed PS is frequently found in seabird's stomach too (Laist, 1987;Turner, 2020). ...
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Petroleum-derived plastics are linked to a variety of growing environmental issues throughout their lifecycle, including emission of greenhouse gases, accumulation in terrestrial and marine habitats, pollution, among others. There has been a lot of attention over the last decade in industrial and research communities in developing and producing eco-friendly polymers to deal with the current environmental issues. Bioplastics preferably are a fast-developing family of polymeric substances that are frequently promoted as substitutes to petroleum-derived plastics. Polyhydroxyalkanoates (PHAs) have a number of appealing properties that make PHAs a feasible source material for bioplastics, either as a direct replacement of petroleum-derived plastics or as a blend with elements derived from natural origin, fabricated biodegradable polymers, and/or non-biodegradable polymers. Among the most promising PHAs, polyhydroxybutyrates (PHBs) are the most well-known and have a significant potential to replace traditional plastics. These biodegradable plastics decompose faster after decomposing into carbon dioxide, water, and inorganic chemicals. Bioplastics have been extensively utilized in several sectors such as food-processing industry, medical, agriculture, automobile industry, etc. However, it is also associated with disadvantages like high cost, uneconomic feasibility, brittleness, and hydrophilic nature. A variety of tactics have been explored to improve the qualities of bioplastics, with the most prevalent being the development of gas and water barrier properties. The prime objective of this study is to review the current knowledge on PHAs and provide a brief introduction to PHAs, which have drawn attention as a possible potential alternative to conventional plastics due to their biological origin, biocompatibility, and biodegradability, thereby reducing the negative impact of microplastics in the environment. This review may help trigger further scientific interest to thoroughly research on PHAs as a sustainable option to greener bioplastics.
... The degradation of these wastes produces plastic fragments or particles less than 5 mm, known as primary microplastics (MPs) [4]. In addition, plastics deliberately manufactured in this size for use in cosmetics or as abrasives are another important source of MPs in the marine environment [5,6]. The ubiquitous distribution of these MPs presents a major threat to various marine organisms and has evolved into an overwhelming challenge for ocean health. ...
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The synergistic impact of microplastics (MPs) and organic pollutants remains poorly understood in the marine environment. This study aimed to assess the toxicity of polypropylene microplastics (PS) and/or di-(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate (DEHP) on marine clams. Both Ruditapes philippinarum and Tegillarca granosa were exposed to PS and DEHP individually and combined at environmentally relevant concentrations for 48 h. The filtration rate, antioxidant enzymes activity, lipid peroxidation, reactive oxygen species accumulation, and histological alterations were evaluated. Our results show that single or co-exposure to MPs and DEHP significantly decreases the filtration rate in both type of clams, but the latter exhibited stronger inhibition effect. Close examination of accumulation of reactive oxygen species and related biomarkers revealed that combined exposure exerts greater oxidative stress in the cells, which causes more serious histopathological damage in the gills of the bivalves. Our study implies that MPs, in synergy with organic pollutants, can be more harmful for marine organisms.
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The production and use of hexabromocyclododecanes (HBCDs) have been strictly limited due to their persistence, toxicity and bioaccumulation. However, the release of HBCDs from related products and wastes would continue for a long time, which may cause many environmental problems. In this study, we investigated the occurrence and distribution of HBCDs and microplastics (MPs) in aquatic organisms inhabiting different substrates. HBCDs were measurable in the seawater, sediment, expanded polystyrene (EPS) substrates and organism samples. Mostly, the concentrations of HBCDs in organisms inhabiting EPS buoys were significantly higher than those of the same species inhabiting other substrates. Meanwhile, the diastereomeric ratio (α/γ) of HBCDs in organisms inhabiting EPS buoys was closer to that in EPS buoys. The fugacity values of HBCDs in EPS buoys were much higher than those in other media, implying that HBCDs can be transferred from EPS buoys to other media. Additionally, MPs derived from EPS buoys would be mistaken as food and ingested by aquatic organisms. The transfer of HBCDs from EPS buoys to aquatic organisms can be achieved by aqueous and dietary exposures. In combination, the contribution of MP ingestion to HBCDs for aquatic organisms should be very limited. These results supported EPS buoys as an important source of HBCDs for the aquatic ecosystem. To effectively control HBCDs pollution, it is necessary to discontinue or reduce the use of EPS buoys.
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Increasing amounts of anthropogenic debris enter the ocean because of mismanagement in coastal communities and, despite a global ban on deliberate dumping, also from vessels, endangering wildlife. Assessing marine plastic pollution directly is challenging, and an alternative is to use seabirds as bioindicators. Our analyses of long time-series (26-years) revealed substantial variation in the amount, characteristics and origin of marine debris (mainly macroplastics and mesoplastics, and excluding fishing gear) associated with seabirds at South Georgia, and, for two species, long-term increases in incidence since 1994. Annual debris recovery rates (items per capita) were 14 × higher in wandering albatrosses Diomedea exulans, and 6 × higher in grey-headed albatrosses Thalassarche chrysostoma and giant petrels Macronectes spp., than in black-browed albatrosses T. melanophris, partly related to differences in egestion (regurgitation), which clears items from the proventriculus. Although some debris types were common in all species, wandering albatrosses and giant petrels ingested higher proportions that were food-related or generic wrapping, gloves, clear or mixed colour, and packaged in South America. This was highly likely to originate from vessels, including the large South American fishing fleets with which they overlap. Debris associated with the two smaller albatrosses was more commonly shorter, rigid (miscellaneous plastic and bottle/tube caps), and packaged in East Asia. Grey-headed albatrosses are exposed to large and increasing amounts of user plastics transported from coastal South America in the Subantarctic Current, or discarded from vessels and circulating in the South Atlantic Gyre, whereas the lower debris ingestion by black-browed albatrosses suggests that plastic pollution in Antarctic waters remains relatively low. Current plastic loads in our study species seem unlikely to have an impact at the population level, but the results nevertheless affirm that marine plastics are a major, trans-boundary animal-welfare and environmental issue that needs to be addressed by much-improved waste-management practices and compliance-monitoring both on land and on vessels in the south Atlantic.
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In European Seas, plastic litter from fishing activities, river transport, and poor waste management is one of the fastest growing threats to the health of the marine environment. Extruded polystyrene (XPS) and expanded polystyrene (EPS), specifically, have become some of the most prominent types of marine litter found around Europe’s coastlines. To combat this problem, the European Commission has ratified a series of regulations and policies, including the Single-Use Plastics Directive and the EU Action Plan for the Circular Economy. However, in order to ensure that the benefits of such regulations and policies are realized at a scale that can adequately address the scope of the problem, decision-makers will need to integrate the opinions, values, and priorities of relevant stakeholders who operate across the EPS/XPS product lifecycle. In this study, we apply a 35-statement Q-methodology to identify the priorities of stakeholders as they relate to the Irish EPS/XPS market and the wider societal transition to a circular economy. Based on the responses of nineteen individuals representing industry, policy-makers, and community leaders, we identified three distinct perspectives: System Overhaul; Incremental Upgrade; and Market Innovation. The results demonstrate that the type and format of policy interventions linked to Ireland’s EPS/XPS circular economy are heavily contested, which presents significant challenges for driving the debate forward. These results provide valuable information on viewpoints that can be used by different stakeholders at national and EU levels to address areas of conflict, ultimately fostering the development of more effective, broadly supported co-developed policies.
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Numerous international governmental agencies that steer policy assume that polystyrene persists in the environment for millennia. Here, we show that polystyrene is completely photochemically oxidized to carbon dioxide and partially photochemically oxidized to dissolved organic carbon. Lifetimes of complete and partial photochemical oxidation are estimated to occur on centennial and decadal time scales, respectively. These lifetimes are orders of magnitude faster than biological respiration of polystyrene and thus challenge the prevailing assumption that polystyrene persists in the environment for millennia. Additives disproportionately altered the relative susceptibility to complete and partial photochemical oxidation of polystyrene and accelerated breakdown by shifting light absorbance and reactivity to longer wavelengths. Polystyrene photochemical oxidation increased approximately 25% with a 10 °C increase in temperature, indicating that temperature is unlikely to be a primary driver of photochemical oxidation rates. Collectively, sunlight exposure appears to be a governing control of the environmental persistence of polystyrene, and thus, photochemical loss terms need to be included in mass balance studies on the environmental fate of polystyrene. The experimental framework presented herein should be applied to a diverse array of polymers and formulations to establish how general these results are for other plastics in the environment.
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Plastic debris has become one of the most serious issues in the marine environment, but little information is available on the occurrence of plastic debris in marine birds from China. In this study, one seabird species and two shorebird species were collected from Yongxing Island of South China Sea to investigate the accumulation of plastic debris. A total of 56 items of plastic debris were observed in 4 of 9 birds, with size ranging from 0.67 to 8.64 mm. Microplastics (<5 mm, 52 items) accounted for 92.9% of the total items. The main color of plastic debris in seabirds was blue (91.1%), followed by dark (5.4%) and white (3.6%). The primary shape of plastic debris was thread (89.2%), followed by sheet (8.9%) and foam (1.8%). Plastic fragments were predominated by polypropylene-polyethylene copolymer (83.9%). This study highlighted that marine birds can mistake plastic debris as food items.
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Human activity is thought to affect the abundance and contamination characteristics of microplastics (MPs) in the environment, which may in turn affect aquatic species. However, few studies have examined the impact of coastal area use pattern on characteristics of MPs in coastal regions. In this study, we investigated MP contamination of abiotic matrices (seawater and sediment) and biotic matrices (bivalves and polychaetes) in three coastal regions characterized by different types of human activity, covering urban, aquafarm, and rural areas. MP abundance was higher in sediment from the urban site than in that from the rural site, but similar to that from the aquafarm site. In the abiotic matrices, different MP polymer compositions were observed among the three sites. Diverse polymers were found in marine matrices from the urban site, implying diverse MP sources in highly populated and industrialized areas. Polystyrene was more abundant in the aquafarm site, reflecting the wide use of expanded polystyrene aquaculture buoys. Polypropylene was more abundant at the rural site, probably due to the use of polypropylene ropes and nets in fishing activity. MP accumulation profiles in marine invertebrates showed trends similar to those exhibited by abiotic matrices, reflecting coastal area use patterns. These results indicate that marine MPs are generated from both land- and marine-based sources, and that the abiotic and biotic marine matrices reflect the MP characteristics.
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This study aimed to investigate if microplastics (MPs) type (polyethylene microspheres (mPE), fishing line fibers, film plastic bags MPs and bottle cap particles) and aging affect MPs capacity to sorb Cd or Cu in estuarine salt marsh medium. Tests were carried out in elutriate solution, a simple medium obtained by mixing rhizosediment (sediment in contact with plants roots) with the respective estuarine water, that can be used to simulate water-sediment exchanges in estuarine salt marsh environments. After 7 days of exposure, metals adsorption was only detected for film MPs. No differences were observed between virgin and aged MPs. Salinity also did not influence metal adsorption to mPE. Present results indicate that in estuarine salt marsh areas some types of MPs might adsorb metals, which could affect metals availability.
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Mechanical fragmentation of four commonly used plastics, from 2-cm squares or cubes to microplastics (MPs, <5 mm), is experimentally investigated using a rotating laboratory mixer mimicking the sea swash zone with natural beach sediments (large and small pebbles, granules, sand). Macro-samples were prepared from brittle not-buoyant PS (disposable plates), flexible thin film of LDPE (garbage bags), highly buoyant foamed PS (building insulation sheets), and hard buoyant PP (single-use beverage cups). With a great variety of behaviors of plastics while mixing, coarser sediments (pebbles) have higher fragmentation efficiency than sands (measured as the mass of generated MPs), disregarding sinking/floating or mechanical properties of the samples. It is confirmed that, under swash-like mixing with coarse sediments, the MPs tend to burry below the sediment surface. The obtained relationship between the mass of MPs and the number of items is similar to that for MPs floating at the ocean surface.
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The effectiveness of mussel caging for active microplastics (MPs) biomonitoring was investigated for the first time by comparing abundance and characteristics (shape, size, color and type of polymers) of MPs ingested by caged depurated blue mussels with those ingested by native mussels collected at the same sites and with those found in their surrounding environment (surface water and sediments). Mussels were exposed along a pollution gradient originating from a wastewater treatment plant discharge and near an abandoned coastal landfill. After 6 weeks of deployment, the majority (93%) of clean transplanted mussels had ingested MPs with a mean number of items ranging from 0.61 to 1.67 items/g. The occurrence, abundance and properties of MPs ingested by caged mussels were similar to those found in native mussels. Among the debris items detected in caged and native mussels, fragments were the most predominant type, consistent with the MPs found in their surrounding environment. MPs sizes were very similar whether in the water, sediments and both caged and native mussels, with a dominance of items <150 μm. Although some polymers were under-represented or totally absent in the caged mussels compared to overlying seawater or surrounding sediment, there was a good overlap in polymer types proportion being found between caged mussels and sediments (Morisita's index of similarity = 0.93) or seawater (0.86). Polystyrene dominated all samples in all the different matrices. Our study suggests that blue mussels caging may be a promising tool for MPs biomonitoring making monitoring more reliable with an accurate assessment of the biological effects of MPs over a predetermined exposure period. However, further methodological improvements should be considered to define a uniform protocol for blue mussels caging to allow spatial and temporal microplastics active biomonitoring.
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This note reports data about a heterogeneous assemblage of anthropogenic litter recorded in 307 nesting and roosting sites of Yellow-legged Gull (Larus michahellis) from a small Mediterranean island. I obtained items of anthropogenic litter on > 30% on the total, with plastic, glass and paper the significantly more abundant litter categories. Litter items were found in the nests mainly as a dry remnant in the regurgitated pellets. Fragments of expanded polystyrene (EPS) with peck marks were also recorded, these last transported to the nests because of their resemblance to the cuttlebones of the Sepia cuttlefish. Ingestion of this litter and the pecking on EPS can negatively impact on seabirds. Moreover, the presence of this litter highlights a transport of polluting material even at considerable distance from anthropized areas. Finally, the presence of scavenger species (an endemic lizard and terrestrial molluscs) feeding on food remains could suggest an assimilation of litter into the trophic webs.
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Mangroves are a unique and important type of coastal wetlands in the tropical and subtropical zones worldwide. The abundance and spatial distribution of microplastics in the mangrove sediments however are still poorly understood. The present study aimed to illustrate the characteristics, abundance and spatial distribution of microplastics in different mangrove sediments along the south-eastern coastal zones of China. Microplastic samples (roughly 10-20 kg fresh sediments at each site) taken from 21 sampling sites showed various shapes, colors, composition, sizes, surface morphology, abundance and strong spatial heterogeneity. Five different shapes of microplastics with a variety of colors were detected in the mangrove sediments, among which foams (74.6%) and fibers (14.0%) were the dominant types. The polymer composition of the microplastics identified based on the FT-IR and μ-FTIR covered polystyrene (75.2%), polypropylene (11.7%), rayon (4.6%), polyester (3.4%), polyethylene (2.8%) and acrylic (2.4%). The observed microplastics with a size range of less than 2 mm made up 58.6% of the total microplastic particles. The microplastics had various surface morphologies, exhibiting complicated weathered surfaces. The abundance of microplastics showed a substantial variation among the sampling sites, ranging from 8.3 to 5738.3 items kg-1 (dry sediment). Altogether, our study provides a better understanding of microplastic pollution status and prevention policy-making of mangrove habitats in China.