Secondary nanoplastics released from a biodegradable microplastic severely impact freshwater environments

Author: Miguel González-Pleiter, Miguel Tamayo-Belda, Gerardo Pulido-Reyes, Georgiana Amariei, Francisco Leganés, Roberto Rosal and Francisca Fernández-Piñas
Year of Publication: 2019
Published: Environmental Science: Nano

Over the last five decades, plastics production has increased as a consequence of their use in strategic sectors causing damage on aquatic ecosystems. In this context, biodegradable plastics have emerged as an ecological alternative because they are easily degradable in the environment. Despite the recent advances in the field of plastic ecotoxicology, the ecological impact of secondary nanoplastics (nanoplastics resulting from natural degradation of micro and macro plastics) in the environment remains poorly understood. Here, we have investigated the effects of secondary nanoplastics of polyhydroxybutyrate (PHB), a biodegradable plastic, on three representative organisms of aquatic ecosystems. Secondary PHB-nanoplastics were produced from PHB-microplastics by abiotic degradation under environmentally representative conditions. Secondary PHB-nanoplastics induced a significant decrease in cellular growth and altered relevant physiological parameters in all organisms. We investigated whether the observed toxicity was exerted by PHB-nanoplastics themselves or by other abiotic degradation products released from PHB-microplastics. An experiment was run in which PHB-nanoplastics were removed by ultrafiltration; the resulting supernatant was not toxic to the organisms, ruling out the presence of toxic chemicals in the PHB-microplastics. In addition, we have performed a complete physicochemical characterization confirming the presence of secondary PHB-nanoplastics in the 75–200 nm range. All results put together indicated that secondary PHB-nanoplastics released as a consequence of abiotic degradation of PHB-microplastics were harmful for the tested organisms, suggesting that biodegradable plastic does not mean safe for the environment in the case of PHB.

Nanoplastic, biodegradable microplastic, freshwater environments

González-Pleiter, M., Tamayo-Belda, M., Pulido-Reyes, G., Amariei, G., Leganés, F., Rosal, R., Fernández-Piñas, F. (2020): Secondary nanoplastics released from a biodegradable microplastic severely impact freshwater environments. Environmental Science: Nano 2019 (6): 1382 – 1392