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Recycling can release huge quantities of microplastics, study finds

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Recycling has been promoted by the plastics industry as a key solution to the growing problem of plastic waste. But a study has found recycling itself could be releasing huge quantities of microplastics.An international team of scientists sampled wastewater from a state-of-the-art recycling plant at an undisclosed location in the UK.

They found that the microplastics released in the water amounted to 13% of the plastic processed.The facility could be releasing up to 75bn plastic particles in each cubic metre of wastewater, they estimated.“I was incredibly shocked,” said Erina Brown, the lead researcher of the study, conducted at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow. “It’s scary because recycling has been designed in order to reduce the problem and to protect the environment.

This is a huge problem we’re creating.”The researchers tested the water before and after the plant installed a water filtration system and found the filter reduced the concentration of microplastics from 13% of the plastic processed to 6%.The estimate of 75bn particles a cubic metre is for a plant with a filter installed.

A majority of the particles were smaller than 10 microns, about the diameter of a human red blood cell, with more than 80% smaller than five microns, Brown said.Microplastics, usually considered to be any particle of plastic measuring less than 5mm, have been found everywhere from freshly fallen snow in Antarctica to the depths of the ocean, and can be toxic for animals and plants.The results also revealed high levels of microplastics in the air around the recycling facility, with 61% of the particles less than 10 microns in size.

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