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Oceans Found Able to Dissolve Plastic Pollution August 28, 2009
Plastic trash on beach
Beaches and oceans are often littered with plastic waste. A new study finds evidence that some kinds of plastics break down in the Pacific Ocean.
A new study finds that plastics, rather than being nearly indestructible, can actually decompose surprisingly fast in the ocean, leaching potentially toxic substances in the process.

In a presentation at a meeting of the American Chemical Society, lead author Katsuhiko Saido said his team, “found that plastic in the ocean actually decomposes as it is exposed to the rain and sun and other environmental conditions, giving rise to yet another source of global contamination that will continue into the future."

Of particular concern is a vast collection of plastic debris about the size of Texas that swirls around the North Pacific in a zone called “The Great Garbage Patch.”

An ocean circulation known as the North Pacific Gyre has been found to be responsible for swirling around a collection of an estimated 3.5 million tons of plastic trash about midway between Hawaii and San Francisco.

Some researchers question Saido’s findings, saying the amount of chemicals being released by the plastic is negligible compared to the size of the world’s oceans.

Most seawater around the world is far cooler than the 86 degrees Fahrenheit Saido’s team found would promote the plastic decomposition. Virtually all of the North Pacific Gyre is several degrees cooler than that.

Photo: NOAA