Plastic floats forever? Maybe not

There's some new research into the man-made continent of floating trash, plastic and styrofoam, that swirls in the North Pacific. Seems some of it breaks down pretty quickly.

There's some new research into the man-made continent of floating trash, plastic and styrofoam, that swirls in the North Pacific. Seems some of it breaks down pretty quickly. Sounds good, right? Biodegradable. But it degrades into chemicals like biphenol-A which is toxic. Oops. You may recognize biphenol from recent concern over triangle-7 plastics once prevalent among high-end sports drink containers, until the toxic uproar caused most bottle makers to shy away from biphenol-leaching products. Here're some of the chemical stew the scientists found in the ocean, thanks to manmade trash: biphenol-A; PS oligomer and other derivatives of polystyrene (PS monomer, dimer and trimer) which is used in disposable tableware, Styrofoam, and DVD cases. Much of the plastic particles are tiny and thus invisible but the chemicals from the plastic form at normal seawater temperatures. The research showed that some plastics begin to break down within a year after reaching the ocean. So now we see the plastic problem is not just unsuspecting animals ingesting plastic bags or bits of styrofoam though that is toxic enough. The entire ocean is becoming a styrene bath for plants and animals alike. SEEING THE TRASH There are two ocean voyages from California to the Pacific trash patch. First is an exploratory venture that left San Francisco Bay earlier this month. Here's the website for this Project Kaisei. They have an expedition tracker using Google Earth. The ship is now headed back into port and here's the blog on the trash they collected in the North Pacific Gyre. Then there is "Plastiki" which is being built of plastic bottles and is meant to publicize the durability of plastic trash st sea. I hope the captain's been reading the research on how fast that plastic degrades. Originally to have launched this summer, "Plastiki" now awaits autumn.