Plastic water pollution is a problem in many parts of the world. As it turned out, nature is able to get rid of at least some rain. Researchers from the University of Cambridge, after examining 29 Scandinavian lakes, concluded that bacteria multiply faster on the surface of plastic litter than, for example, on leaves. The authors of the publication also emphasize that this does not imply approval of the waste of the aquatic environment.
Scientists from the University of Cambridge studied 29 Scandinavian lakes between August and September 2019. In their experiments, they soaked plastic bags from stores in water until the carbon-containing material was released. Then they filled glass bowls with water from each of the 29 lakes. As many as half of these containers have been added to the water along with the plastic emitted material. 72 hours passed until they checked how much it affected bacterial growth.
It turns out that some microbes can not only handle plastics, but also feel good about them. When the plastic lifted just four percent of the carbon in the water, the bacteria doubled. This indicates that it is easier for these breeds to get carbon from, say, plastic bags, than from decomposing leaves and other organic matter.
Plastic makes bacteria have a greater ‘appetite’
According to the researchers, enriching contaminated tanks with certain bacteria can help remove plastic from them. It’s a bit like plastic garbage that feeds bacteria’s appetites. Dr. Andrew Tannintspp, author of the paper that appeared in Nature Communications this week, explains.
As the expert points out, “This means that plastic pollution stimulates the entire food web in lakes, because more bacteria means more food for larger organisms like ducks and fish.” The extent of plastic decomposition depends on the diversity of microorganisms present in the lake. In addition, bacteria degrade plastic more vigorously when there is less organic matter in the lake. Therefore, by examining the lakes for these parameters, it is possible to determine which ones need treatment the most.
“We hope our results will encourage more interest in garbage disposal.”
Scientists emphasize that the results of their study do not justify plastic pollution of water. Some components of the plastic are toxic, and at the same time as an atypical food source for bacteria, they can disturb the biological dependencies of the lake.
Our research shows that when shopping networks enter lakes or rivers, they can have a significant and unexpected impact on the entire ecosystem. We hope our findings will encourage people to pay more attention to the disposal of plastic waste, says the study’s lead author.
It takes time to break down plastic. Unfortunately, plastic will pollute the environment for decades to come. The good news is that our study can identify microbes that can be used to break down plastic trash and better deal with pollution, says one of the scientists, Prof. David Aldridge.
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