Plastic will be the likely calling card of our time on Earth when modern sites are excavated by future researchers. And plastic is leaving its mark at historic sites as well, according to a new study.
Castell Henllys is the site of an Iron Age village in the Welsh Pembrokeshire Coast National Park. It was once home to a wealthy family that included a community of up to 100 people who worked together to produce food and materials 2,000 years ago.
The rural site of the hill fort includes four reconstructed roundhouses, which are circular structures with conical roofs made of wood and straw. Archaeologists and researchers rebuilt these structures using the same materials villagers would have used during the Iron Age.
Based on extensive excavations at the site, the roundhouses were reconstructed using the foundation trenches and post holes of the original structures.
“This is the only site in the UK where this has been done and has been open to the public and schools for over 35 years,” said Harold Mytum, lead researcher and professor of archaeology at the University of Liverpool, via email. “This means that the reconstructed houses have stood for a long time, showing how effective the prehistoric designs were.”
Two of the roundhouses, the Cook House and the Earthwatch house, were replaced in 2018 and 2019.
After standing for nearly 30 years each and being visited by countless tourists and about 6,000 school children per year, the sites of the roundhouses provided a unique opportunity for researchers.
What began as an experiment to understand how building materials decay and degrade over time turned into something else when the researchers uncovered a wealth of plastic — 2,000 plastic items to be exact.
The study published this week in the journal Antiquity.
Although the historic site is well maintained and cleaned, small plastic remnants of activity by visitors — children routinely eating lunches in one of the structures — were able to hide beneath benches in dark corners of the roundhouses.
The site is in a very rural setting among the rolling countryside of west Wales, so “the amount of plastic litter was a surprise,” Mytum said.
While plastic is one of the main sources of marine pollution, this study shows its impact on the terrestrial environment as well, the researchers said.
Among the plastic fragments were utensils, bottle caps, straws, straw wrappers, plastic bags, plastic food wrap, candy wrappers and even apple stickers.
They even found “an almost complete Godzilla-themed thermos wrapper.”
“If (the children) had been given (sack lunches) without all the plastic packing it would have made a huge difference,” Mytum said. “Our convenience can lead to environmental damage.”
Other items are related to heritage interpretations given at the site.
Costumed guides represent the Demetae tribe which once inhabited this part of Wales before, during and after the Romans invaded. Role playing and activities are part of the experience, including cooking and weaving and face painting of Celtic designs. Several plastic face paint containers were also uncovered.
And then, of course, there were items likely lost by children at the site: a pair of glasses and articles of clothing.
“We thought we would find items that were lost during the use of the houses, but the amounts were disturbing in their environmental implications,” Mytum said. “To find that here gives the site a new importance — it shows how our plastic discards affect everywhere.”
Their findings are indicative of what researchers believe will be the hallmark of the Anthropocene, the current geological age, and that our tine will come to be known as the “Plastic Age.”
“The plastic creates an archaeological signature of our time (the Anthropocene), but one which is environmentally damaging,” Mytum said. “That plastic will enter the ecological cycle and have wider implications. If all this material was recycled, it would not be represented archaeologically but would help save the planet ecologically.”
Mytum is working with the staff at the historic site to increase environmental awareness for future visitors and will use the evidence they collected during the excavations to create an educational campaign.
“This shows that carefully planned reconstruction on excavated areas can provide very effective public interpretation and education facilities, and test theories about building construction,” Mytum said. “It also shows, though, that even when it appears that the site is well maintained and litter collected, much may still be deposited. Management of what is sold in site shops and allowed on-site could help reduce entry of plastic into the terrestrial environment.”
Three more COVID-19 cases at GRT – KitchenerToday.com
Grand River Transit is confirming three more COVID cases.
All the affected employees are bus drivers.
Two of them last worked on January 15, while the third was last on the job on Jan. 11.
GRT points out all three are now self-isolating at home.
So far in Janaury, nine employees have tested positive for the virus.
Grand River Transit lists COVID-19 cases on its website for transparency purposes, but some details are not released due to privacy concerns.
Since the on-set of the pandemic, multiple safety precautions have been put in place to protect drivers and riders, including barriers and mandatory masks.
Microplastics could be eliminated from wastewater at source – E&T Magazine
A team of researchers from the Institut national de la recherche scientifique (INRS), Quebec, Canada, have developed an electrolytic process for treating wastewater, degrading microplastics at the source.
Microplastics are fragments of plastic less than 5mm long, often contained in toiletries or shedding from polyester clothing. They are present in virtually every corner of the Earth, and pose a particularly serious threat to marine ecosystems. High concentrations of microplastics can be carried into the environment in wastewater.
There are no established degradation methods to handle microplastics during wastewater treatment; although some techniques exist, these involve physical separation as a means of filtering the pollutant. These techniques do not degrade microplastics, which requires additional work to manage the separated fragments. So far, research into degradation of microplastics has been very limited.
The INRS researchers, led by water treatment expert Professor Patrick Drogui, decided to try degrading plastic particles through electrolytic oxidation – a process that does not require the addition of chemicals.
“Using electrodes, we generate hydroxyl radicals to attack microplastics,” Drogui said. “This process is environmentally friendly because it breaks them down into CO2 and water molecules, which are non-toxic to the ecosystem.”
Drogui and his colleagues experimented with different anode materials and other parameters such as current intensity, anode surface, electrolyte type, electrolyte concentration and reaction time. They found that the electrolytic oxidation could degrade more than 58 ± 21 per cent of microplastics in one hour. The microplastics appeared to degrade directly into gas rather than breaking into smaller particles.
Lab-based tests on water artificially contaminated with fragments of polystyrene showed a degradation efficiency as high as 89 per cent.
“This work demonstrated that [electrolytic oxidation] is a promising process for degradation of microplastics in water without production of any waste or by-products,” the researchers wrote in their Environmental Pollution report.
Drogui envisions this technology being used to treat microplastic-rich wastewater emerging from sources such as commercial laundries.
“When this commercial laundry water arrives at the wastewater treatment plant, it is mixed with large quantities of water, the pollutants are diluted and therefore more difficult to degrade,” he explained. “Conversely, by acting at the source, i.e. at the laundry, the concentration of microplastics is higher, thus more accessible for electrolytic degradation.”
Next, the researchers will move on to experimenting with degrading microplastics on water outside the artificial laboratory environment. Real commercial laundry water contains other materials that can affect the degradation process, such as carbonates and phosphates, which can trap radicals and limit degradation. If the technology is effective under these circumstances, the researchers plan to conduct a study to determine the cost of scaling up this treatment to implement in laundries.
Last week, researchers from the University of Barcelona published a study suggesting that encouraging a greater proliferation of seagrass meadows in the shallows of oceans could help trap, extract and carry marine plastic debris to shore.
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Eliminating microplastics in wastewater directly at the source – EurekAlert
A research team from the Institut national de la recherche scientifique (INRS) has developed a process for the electrolytic treatment of wastewater that degrades microplastics at the source. The results of this research have been published in the Environmental Pollution journal.
Wastewater can carry high concentrations of microplastics into the environment. These small particles of less than 5 mm can come from our clothes, usually as microfibers. Professor Patrick Drogui, who led the study, points out there are currently no established degradation methods to handle this contaminant during wastewater treatment. Some techniques already exist, but they often involve physical separation as a means of filtering pollutants. These technologies do not degrade them, which requires additional work to manage the separated particles.
Therefore, the research team decided to degrade the particles by electrolytic oxidation, a process not requiring the addition of chemicals. “Using electrodes, we generate hydroxyl radicals (* OH) to attack microplastics. This process is environmentally friendly because it breaks them down into CO2 and water molecules, which are non-toxic to the ecosystem,” explains the researcher. The electrodes used in this process are more expensive than iron or steel electrodes, which degrade over time, but can be reused for several years.
An effective treatment
Professor Drogui envisions the use of this technology at the exit of commercial laundries, a potential source of microplastics release into the environment. “When this commercial laundry water arrives at the wastewater treatment plant, it is mixed with large quantities of water, the pollutants are diluted and therefore more difficult to degrade. Conversely, by acting at the source, i.e., at the laundry, the concentration of microplastics is higher (per litre of water), thus more accessible for electrolytic degradation,” explains the specialist in electrotechnology and water treatment.
Laboratory tests conducted on water artificially contaminated with polystyrene showed a degradation efficiency of 89%. The team plans to move on to experiments on real water. “Real water contains other materials that can affect the degradation process, such as carbonates and phosphates, which can trap radicals and reduce the performance of the oxidation process,” says Professor Drogui, scientific director of the Laboratory of Environmental Electrotechnologies and Oxidative Processes (LEEPO).
If the technology demonstrates its effectiveness on real commercial laundry water, the research group intends to conduct a study to determine the cost of treatment and the adaptation of the technology to treat larger quantities of wastewater. Within a few years, the technology could be implemented in laundry facilities.
About the study
The article “Treatment of microplastics in water by anodic oxidation: A case study for polystyrene”, by Marthe Kiendrebeogo, Mahmoodreza Karimiestahbanati, Ali Khosravanipour Mostafazadeh, Patrick Drogui and Rajeshwar Dayal Tyagi, was published in the Environmental Pollution journal. The team received financial support from the Fonds de recherche du Québec – Nature et technologies (FRQNT), the CREATE-TEDGIEER program, the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) and the Canadian Francophonie Scholarship Program (CFSP).
INRS is a university dedicated exclusively to graduate level research and training. Since its creation in 1969, INRS has played an active role in Quebec’s economic, social, and cultural development and is ranked first for research intensity in Quebec and in Canada. INRS is made up of four interdisciplinary research and training centres in Quebec City, Montreal, Laval, and Varennes, with expertise in strategic sectors: Eau Terre Environnement, Énergie Matériaux Télécommunications, Urbanisation Culture Société, and Armand-Frappier Santé Biotechnologie. The INRS community includes more than 1,400 students, postdoctoral fellows, faculty members, and staff.
Service des communications de l’INRS
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