This year the students addressed the problem of environmental plastics. More than 8 billion tons of plastic have been produced, mostly since the 1950s. And, according to former EPA Regional Administrator, Judith Enck, almost no plastic is actually recycled or recyclable, with most of it being too contaminated or too low quality, especially single-use plastic packaging. Less than 10 percent of plastics have been recycled.
There is so much plastic all around us, it is estimated that just by eating, drinking, and breathing, the average American ingests at least 74,000 tiny plastic fragments or fibers, called microplastics, every year.
Some of these microplastic particles could potentially leach harmful chemicals including bisphenol A (BPA) and phthalates, and can accumulate PCBs. These chemicals have been linked to a variety of health problems, including reproductive and organ harm, obesity, and developmental delays in children.
Plastic is nearly impossible to avoid: it lines soup cans, leaches out of storage containers, is used in toys, shampoo, cosmetics and countless other products, and even hides in household dust.
Plastic production is expected to more than quadruple between 2015 and 2050, which means the amount of plastic contamination in the environment will rise as well.
Four teams of LSAMP students from Montclair State University attended the day long activity at Rutgers-Newark on Friday February 7. Each team presented their idea to solve the problem of environmental plastic in a “shark-tank” like forum. Scientases were awarded first prize in the competition for their idea of using enzymatic degradation to recycle plastics. The team who won second place, LDP EcoSystems, proposed using a new light degradable polymer to recycle plastic.