Home :: Blog

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Plastics Are Forever or at Least 27 Years

Found this on the beach in NJ yesterday. Now don't laugh, but you have to pay to get on the beach here in the summer. Most towns give you a beach tag or a beach "badge". If you aren't familiar with a beach badge, it is a thin piece of plastic, I'm guessing vinyl, about 2 inches square. They are dated of course so you can't use them next year.

Take a look at this one; it is 27 years old! There is no telling if this was in the ocean for 27 years, or if it spent some of that time buried in the sand. Maybe it went a few hundred miles south during a Nor'easter and made its way back. Maybe it did that ten times. Maybe it circumnavigated the entire North Atlantic. Belmar is two towns away from me, less than a mile.

The point is that besides being a bit faded and a little bent at the edges, this little piece of plastic is entirely intact 27 years later. We all pick up our share of plastic on the beaches; rarely is it dated. Makes me wonder how old some of the other stuff we are picking up is.

John Weber

Blogger John said...

UV (sunlight)is brutile on plastics, so for a cheap plastic piece to last that long is not possible unless it was sheltered. It probably spent all its time buried in the sand, protected from degradation, much like the 40 year old newspapers that can be recovered from landfills.

Yes, it is 27 years old, but your headline is misleading.

5:54 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


A hard plastic container can take twenty to thirty years to decompose. On the other hand, that plastic ring that holds your six-pack of soda together can last for up to four hundred fifty years.

1:37 PM  
Blogger John Weber said...

To the first comment, yes sunlight breaks down certain types of plastics, but in the cool ocean that effect is much less I suspect. Also sunlight does not break down #3 plastics PVC or vinyl. If it did all the vinyl siding on houses would be deteriorating and that is not the case. I see more and more vinyl in conumer products so that is a concern.

To comment #2, I would bet a hard plastic container would last ten times that long in the cool ocean in this part of the world. Now if it were under the tropical sun, getting battered by big waves on a beach or reef that could be completely different. The type of plastic would be the biggest factor. Naturally, this plastic is not really breaking down anyway, it is breaking apart into smaller and smaller pieces, still polymers of course.

John Weber

6:53 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

New studies have shown that plastics do break down rapidly in our oceans with a disastrous effect.
"Sunlight, wave and wind action disintegrate plastics into a soup of toxins, endocrine disrupters and estrogen-like compounds that are having grave effects from the very bottom of the food chain all the way to the very top."
Check the site to find out more and about Paddle 2010 where extreme athlete Tom Jones is paddling from Key West to New York to raise awareness about this issue. The paddle will begin May 16, 2010 and end in New York in August to coincide with the 'Paddle around Manhattan'

2:43 PM  
Anonymous Bill said...

The following is adapted from the Friends of Univ. of California Santa Cruz Long Marine Lab
Ocean Conservation Action Statement #3
November 2008: Plastic Bags. How do plastics...affect our oceans? They are now found throughout all the world’s seas. Ocean-going vessels dump more than eight million pounds of plastic each year. Millions more tons come from land based sources. Plastic bags serve as death traps as marine birds and animals become entangled in them. The problem is not limited to plastic bags. In the ocean all plastics eventually degrade into smaller and smaller pieces that break down slowly, becoming part of the food chain. Nearly 200 different species of sea life including whales, dolphins, turtles, and seals die every year due to plastic bags––usually because they are confused with food. Millions of sea birds are starving to death because their stomachs are filled with plastic.
For much more information on plastic pollution of our ocean, Google Pacific Gyre.

9:20 AM  
Blogger JT said...

John, breaking down is PHOTOdegrading... just makes smaller pieces, doesn't make it go away. Just the opposite, makes it harder and harder to clean it up.

Out of sight may be out of mind, but it's not out of the water!

9:14 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home