12 Apr 2024


A new plant-based plastic material releases nine times fewer microplastics than conventional plastic when exposed to sunlight and seawater, according to a new study. The research, led by experts from the University of Portsmouth in the UK and the Flanders Marine Institute (VLIZ) in Belgium, analysed the decomposition of two different types of plastic under extreme conditions.

A bio-based plastic material made from natural raw materials withstood exposure to intense ultraviolet light and seawater for 76 days – the equivalent of 24 months of sun exposure in central Europe – better than a conventional plastic made from petroleum derivatives.

Professor of Mechanical Engineering Hom Dhakal, from the School of Mechanical Engineering and Design at the University of Portsmouth, and a member of Revolution Plastics, explains, “Bio-based plastics are gaining interest as alternatives to conventional plastics, but little is known about their potential source of microplastic contamination in the marine environment. It is important to know how these materials behave when exposed to extreme environments to predict how they will perform when used in marine applications, such as ship hull construction, and what impact they may have on ocean life.

“By knowing the effect of different types of plastics on the environment, we can make better decisions to protect our oceans,” Dhakal adds.
According to Plastic Oceans International, every minute of every day, the equivalent of one truckload of plastic is dumped into the oceans. When this plastic waste is exposed to the environment, it breaks down into smaller particles, less than 5 mm in size. These particles are known as ‘microplastics’ and have been observed in most marine ecosystems, posing a serious threat to aquatic life. “Although our results show that PLA released fewer microplastics, which means that using plant-based plastics instead of petroleum-based plastics might seem like a good idea to reduce plastic pollution in the ocean, we must be careful, as it is clear that microplastics are still being released and this remains a concern,” he warns.