Formation and Identification of Small Microplastics and Nanoplastics
Level of Education of Students Involved
Arts and Sciences
The rapid increase in plastic production over the past few decades has escalated the consequential global plastic pollution across all environments. Plastic pollution consists of large intact pieces, and also small, fragmented and altered pieces of plastic. In aqueous media, small micro- (< 10 um) and nanoplastics (< 1 um) have different properties than the larger plastic pieces, prompting the need for further investigations and concerns related to human and environmental health. We recently determined that using a small volume of liquid solubilizer, such as n-dodecane, and vigorous mixing, small micro- and nanoplastics are formed. Ultrasonic mixing can be used to further decrease these particle sizes and increase the concentration suspended in water. Common stock and real-world plastics, such as polyethylene (PE), polyethylene terephthalate (PET), polystyrene (PS), polypropylene (PP), and polycarbonate (PC) all readily formed nanoplastic suspensions in water. We have quantitatively created nanoplastic suspensions of known concentration with the solubilizer and have also removed it from the solution. The ease of this nanoplastic formation is also concerning, as it suggests they are more abundant and bio-available in natural environments than currently estimated.
Castleman, Joe; Kaiser, Scott; and Martens, Sydney, "Formation and Identification of Small Microplastics and Nanoplastics" (2023). Symposium on Undergraduate Research and Creative Expression (SOURCE). 1167.