Most of us are tragically over-familiar with the image of plastic debris littering the world’s oceans, beaches, and roadsides. When left alone in nature, plastic can take a remarkably long time to biodegrade. It’s been hypothesized that plastic can remain in the environment for between 450-1000 years.
Sun exposure and sand blasting can cause fragmentation in a plastic item like a bottle or trash bag, breaking it down into microplastics – tiny plastic granules measuring millimeters or even micrometers in size.
Microplastics have been found in all 6 ocean basins, in virtually every river system, and even in the deepest ocean trenches. This is rather insidious, as they still carry strong pollutant capabilities even though many cannot be seen by the naked eye.
Until recently, no concrete data existed to suggest that microplastics were a problem anywhere else other than oceans and waterways. But a paper published yesterday in Nature showed that microplastics, heaps and heaps of them, can travel by air up to 62 miles on the winds.
Intercontinental Ballistic Microplastic
The Pyrenees of southern France and northern Spain: a paradise of pristine European mountains cloaked in pastures for cheery sheep and cheerier shepherds, hardwood and pine forests, and quaint mountain hamlets.
Yet even lands such as are treasured and protected by man are not spared from his pollution. The study found that over the course of five months on the summit of a remote and uninhabited mountain within the Pyrenees range, relative daily plastic counts of almost 400 pieces per square meter were deposited on the catch area.
This plastic, the study found, had actually traveled far above the pinnacles of the Pyrenees through the atmosphere, and it warned that even remote areas on land can become polluted by plastic due to atmospheric transport.
An air mass trajectory analysis showed that the plastic had come as far as 98 kilometers away.