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JOURNAL ARTICLE

Plastics and beaches: a degrading relationship

Patricia L Corcoran, Mark C Biesinger, Meriem Grifi
Marine Pollution Bulletin 2009, 58 (1): 80-4
18834997
Plastic debris in Earth's oceans presents a serious environmental issue because breakdown by chemical weathering and mechanical erosion is minimal at sea. Following deposition on beaches, plastic materials are exposed to UV radiation and physical processes controlled by wind, current, wave and tide action. Plastic particles from Kauai's beaches were sampled to determine relationships between composition, surface textures, and plastics degradation. SEM images indicated that beach plastics feature both mechanically eroded and chemically weathered surface textures. Granular oxidation textures were concentrated along mechanically weakened fractures and along the margins of the more rounded plastic particles. Particles with oxidation textures also produced the most intense peaks in the lower wavenumber region of FTIR spectra. The textural results suggest that plastic debris is particularly conducive to both chemical and mechanical breakdown in beach environments, which cannot be said for plastics in other natural settings on Earth.

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