Plastic habitats: insights into algal biofilm formation on PET, PP and PVC in a freshwater lake.

, Stanton Tom, Law Antonia.

Plastic materials are integral to contemporary societies. However, at the end of their life plastic products that are not disposed of responsibly can pollute the environment. The negative impacts of plastic pollution are well documented and vary with plastic polymer and type. However, in addition to the physical and chemical environmental threats posed by plastic waste, plastic in the environment can also provide a habitat for some organisms. This work documents the colonisation of plastic materials by diatom and algal communities in benthic and photic lake environments over six weeks of submersion. It finds that biofilm communities on plastic litter differ depending on position within the lake (photic and benthic), and that the development of the algal assemblage varies with plastic polymer (Low Density Polyethylene, Polyethylene Terephthalate, and Polypropylene). Moreover, SEM imaging of these plastic surfaces following submersion identified surface degradation of plastic litter, highlighting the potential for plastic degradation after four weeks. The extent of this degradation also varied between the plastic polymers under investigation. This research highlights the role of plastic waste as a habitat for algal communities, with implications for freshwater carbon fixation and microplastic generation. The recorded differences between polymer type suggest that the ability of different plastic polymers to function as habitats for algal communities varies in lake environments, as does the algal assemblages they can support. Moreover, the presence of these biofilms could act as a catalyst for the breakdown of plastic polymers into microplastics.

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