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While recycling has been championed as the go-to solution for plastic waste management, a recent study unveils a sobering twist – recycling may be contributing to the release of staggering amounts of microplastics into our environment.
An international research team based at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow conducted a study at a state-of-the-art recycling plant, located somewhere in the UK, and were astounded by the findings. They discovered that an astonishing 13% of the plastic processed at the facility was released back into the environment as microplastics through wastewater. To put that into perspective, this equates to an estimated 75 billion plastic particles per cubic meter of wastewater.
Erina Brown, the lead researcher on the study, voiced her dismay, “It’s scary because recycling has been designed to reduce the problem and to protect the environment. This is a huge problem we’re creating.” A water filtration system installed at the plant was able to reduce the microplastic concentration from 13% to 6%, yet, the level of microplastic release remained alarmingly high.
In addition to water Pollution, the air surrounding the recycling facility also contained high levels of microplastics. In fact, 61% of the airborne particles were less than 10 microns in size, similar to the diameter of a human red blood cell. Exposure to such particulate matter has been linked to human illnesses, highlighting another potential health risk.
What’s troubling is that this facility represents a ‘best-case scenario,’ given its use of water filtration, something not universally adopted in recycling plants worldwide. The study’s findings underscore the urgent need to investigate microplastic emissions from other recycling facilities globally.
The stark reality is that only about 9% of the 370 million metric tonnes of plastic produced globally is recycled, pointing towards the enormity of the microplastic issue. Judith Enck, a former US Environmental Protection Agency official and current leader of Beyond Plastics, commented on the findings: “The findings are disturbing but not surprising. This one recycling facility… demonstrates the serious problem of using plastics… It is a clarion call to use less.”
The study’s shocking revelations should spur us to reconsider our dependence on plastic and to actively seek out and adopt more sustainable alternatives. We’ve long hailed recycling as the answer to our plastic problem, but it’s time to shift the focus to reduction. Remember, every choice you make can help lessen the burden on our planet. It’s time to say ‘no’ to unnecessary plastics in our lives and ‘yes’ to a healthier, more sustainable future. Let’s embrace change together.
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