Nanoplastics released from packaging and cosmetics and entering the sewage system and surface waters, eventually reaching the sea, could be damaging the water’s inhabitants.
Researchers in the Netherlands have studied what happens when tiny plastic particles enter the sea as plastic debris decomposes and the damage it causes to sea animals.
The team from Wageningen University and Research Centre highlighted cosmetics as one of the culprits having studied the North Sea, although they state that the effects now discovered do not yet prove that plastic is a big problem, but they do suggest that further research is extremely important.
The EU and the Dutch government recognise the problem and the need to monitor the existence of plastics in the seas in order to learn more about present and future concentrations of plastic micro- and nanoparticles in marine environments.
In the latest study professor Bart Koelmans’ research team exposed mussels to various concentrations of nanoplastic in order to discover the concentration at which an effect was noticeable.
The team also varied the quantity of algae – the normal food source for mussels. By giving the plastic nanoparticles colour, and by measuring them using dynamic light scattering, it was possible to determine the particle concentration that exerted an effect.
Further research planned
The researchers described in their publication that the extent to which the tiny plastic particles clump together is also extremely important for understanding particle uptake and the resulting effects in marine organisms.
"It means that those effects are not easy to predict because the biological availability of the particles can differ enormously from one organism to another, and because variation in water quality also plays a role”, says Prof. Koelmans.
Future studies on this topic are planned and will be published at a later date, with the aim of finding the true effect of these plastics on marine life, and how a solution can be found.