We have always heard that polystyrene, one of the world’s most widely used plastics, has not been decomposed for thousands of years and may, therefore, be a major pollutant.
However, a new study published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology Letters shows that if polystyrene is exposed to sunlight, it can “confuse” it in shorter time frames, from decades to centuries.
Polystyrene or polystyrene is now used in many areas, in expanded forms, especially in packaging, but also in non-foam form for the construction of many facilities, from disposable razors to CD cases.
It cannot be degraded by any microbe and, above all, this aspect has forced scientists to evaluate, if not conservatively, its duration over millennia. It seems that a new study by Colin Ward and his colleagues at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution has reduced this limit.
The researchers conducted an experiment by placing five samples of polystyrene in water, which is widely available on the market. They then subjected these parts of the modeling of sunlight three times brighter than the same sunlight that beats at the equator to speed up the simulation time.
The researchers found that this simulated light partially oxidized all the samples, turning some of them into organic carbon. According to researchers, the same process could take decades in the natural environment and at latitudes ranging from 0° to 50°N (mainly from the equator to the upper boundary of the United States).
Therefore, scientists are estimating a period of time that will take centuries, not millennia, for complete degradation.
Researchers believe that this limit can be further reduced by playing with the amount and quality of additives commonly found in polystyrene. With new technologies, these additives can be easily controlled in the future.