WHOI Study Examines Impact of Sunlight on Degrading Plastics

WHOI Marine Chemist Collin Ward works on polystyrene samples in his lab. Photo by Jayne Doucette, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.

WOODS HOLE – The Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution released a study that found that polystyrene plastics degrade faster in sunlight than what was previously thought.

The study, published in the “Environmental Science and Technology Letters” journal earlier this month, reveals that polystyrene can degrade in decades or centuries as opposed to thousands of years when exposed to sunlight.

Polystyrene is often detected in oceans across the planet. The study aims to show that the nature of polystyrene in the environment is “shorter and likely more complicated than we previously understood,” said WHOI Marine Chemist Collin Ward.

Researches submerged five different samples of polystyrene in water, sealing them in glass containers. The samples were then exposed to a solar simulator, which gives off the same frequencies of light that the sun does.

The scientists collected the carbon dioxide and compounds that were dissolved into the water.

From there, the origins of the carbon atoms found in both the carbon dioxide and filtered water were traced back.

WHOI’s team also found that additives to polystyrene, which change its color and physical properties for example, impact its breakdown.

To read the study, click here.

About Brendan Fitzpatrick

Brendan, a recent graduate from the University of Massachusetts Amherst, is one of the newest members of the CapeCod.com NewsCenter team. When not on the beat, you'll probably find him watching Boston sports.

737 West Main Street
Hyannis, MA 02601
Contact Us | Advertise Terms of Use 
Employment and EEO | Privacy