Solar Energy Has the Capacity to Fragment Marine Plastic

Solar Energy Has the Capacity to Fragment Marine Plastic

Oct 18, 2021, 11:41:22 AM News

In an earlier scientific study, the knowledge regarding solar energy was limited. However, persistent efforts and research from scientists have turned the game around. Earlier, scientists speculated that applying solar energy to marine plastics would only result in the breakdown of smaller particles chemically identical to the source and could last forever.

However, recent research has concluded that Sunlight can perform much more fragmentation than what was believed earlier. The study proved that applying sun heat to marine plastic materials could produce dissolved, polymer, and gas-phased chemical compounds, contradicting the earlier theory.

Recently, scientists have figured out that by-products of this chemical reaction from Sunlight would also give away plenty of water-soluble chemical elements, compounds, or formulas. The people involved in the research have also revealed that this ultra-complex chemical reaction could conclude in a matter of weeks, if not days. They are pretty surprised by the complexity of the process and have theorized that it is at least ten times more complex than their earlier theory had predicted.

The scientists have published a paper in the magazine “Environmental Science and Technology” and have revealed that the significance of their research lies in the fact that the widely held theories regarding the longevity of plastic materials in the surface waters and on the terrestrial land might be a misconception. They have challenged that the emerging evidence about photochemical reactions based on materials on surface water cannot be overlooked.

When we speak a lot about climate change, the research is relevant as it aims to shake our belief system on a man-made product that has been considered infamous for the degradation in the environment.

A team of scientists led by enthusiastic Anna Walsh (a student of WHOI) challenges that our whole perception of plastics might be flawed. Her team had published a paper in which they have highlighted the misconception of policymakers and other groups of their fraternity that chemical compounds that result from the degradation and decay of plastics might stay in the environment forever.

However, their work has discovered a surprising finding. The chemical reaction entailed in the photochemical response on marine plastics is more complex than people assume. If certain materials are left exposed to Sunlight, then polymers, gas-phase compounds, water-soluble compounds, and dissolved compounds are also produced.

This new study challenges the very fabric of guidelines that have ruled over all the climate preservation works worldwide. Walsh’s theory states that photochemical reaction on marine materials also produces compounds as by-products that are not identical to the original materials. It means that solar energy helps in the decay of materials and can also change their chemical composition.

The Caveat

Colin Ward, the assistant scientist, involved in this study, has also made a statement and described his team’s work as “astonishing.” He feels that their discovery that photochemical reactions can also produce transformational by-products that dissolve in water is truly a game-changer.

However, Ward has also stated a caveat against that optimistic outlook on their research. He was quoted as saying by that while he is sure that the new study is significant, he is not sure whether that is a good thing for the environment in general. He shared the predicament that the impact these transformational photochemical by-products have had on the aquatic animals, plants, and eco-system, in general, is unclear.

The crux of their research is that most plastic bags used worldwide contain pure base resin and other complicated chemical compounds as additives. Another study discovered that at least 1/3rd of the total mass of an average plastic bag consists of complex additive materials. The primary reason these additives are added to the pure film is to make the material appear and behave certain.

During the research, the scientists used plastic bags from Walmart, Target, and CVS. The material in use was single-use polyethylene bags consisting of pure film.

After the test, the scientists analyzed their findings at the famous site “National Magnetic Field Laboratory.” It has a mass spectrometer with a 21-tesla powered magnet that gives high-mass accuracy and resolution.


Plastics play a crucial role in our day-to-day life and also in the continuous degradation of our environment. Plastics is well known to produce chemical compounds during the decay process that persist in the surrounding for many years, if not forever.

However, a group of scientists has now found out that these materials can be degraded or chemically transformed into compounds different from the original material thanks to the additives involved in the manufacturing process of these plastics.

Published by Elisa Wilson


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