British researchers find More than Half of small mammals are 'plastic positive'

  • 2022-08-29

According to foreign media reports, researchers from the University of Sussex, the Mammal Society and the University of Exeter said in a study published in the Science of the Total Environment, More than half of species' faeces have been analysed for traces of plastic, according to researchers looking at how much plastic small mammals in England and Wales are exposed to. The concentration of plastic in the waste of small mammals native to the UK is comparable to that found in human studies.

The researchers found that plastic uptake occurred at different locations and across different diets, from herbivores to insectivores to omnivores, contrary to their expectation that samples from urban areas would have higher concentrations of plastic and samples from herbivorous species would have lower concentrations.

Emily Thrift, a graduate of the University of Sussex, notes: "It is very worrying that traces of plastic are so widely distributed across species in different locations and with different diets. This suggests that plastic may be seeping into various areas of our environment in different ways. We are also concerned that both species, the European hedgehog and the vole, are declining in the UK."

Using equipment at the Greenpeace laboratory at the University of Exeter, the team analysed 261 stool samples, 16.5 per cent of which contained plastic. The most common types are polyester, polyethylene (widely used in single-use packaging) and polynorbornene (mainly used in the rubber industry). Polyester, which accounted for 27 percent of the debris identified, was found in all plastic-positive species -- except the wood rat. The paper notes that microfibres, which are widely used in textiles and fashion, can enter waste water systems through household washing and eventually land through the use of sewage sludge as fertiliser.

More than a quarter of the plastics found in the study were biodegradable or bioplastic. While these types of plastics may degrade faster than polymers, they can still be ingested by small mammals, so further research is needed to investigate their true biological impact, the authors caution.

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