Sinking of floating plastic debris caused by biofilm development in a freshwater lake.

Plastic pollution has been increasingly reported in both marine environment and inland waters, but their
fate is not well understood. Several studies have showed that the surface of plastic debris can be colonized
by microbes, leading to the sinking of floating plastic debris in marine environment. In this work,
development of biofilm on polypropylene sheet (squares with a side length of 5 and 10 mm) and their
buoyancy changes were studied in a freshwater lake in four seasons. Results showed that biofilm
development have different growth rate and distinct algae composition in different seasons, which are
mainly related to the difference in temperature, nutrient levels, and suspend solids in lake water. Biofilm
development was much quicker on small plastics in all seasons. At the end of the experiment, all plastics
lost buoyancy in summer while only a small portion lost buoyance in other seasons. Sinking of the
floating plastics can be attributed to the development of biofilm and the trapped minerals. Our results
demonstrated that biofilm development can cause the sinking of floating plastics in fresh lakes but the
time required to lose buoyance can differ seasonally. Floating plastics will remain in water for a longer
time in cold season but sink in a short time in warm season. Future research is required to determine the
influence of plastic types and shapes, and quantitative relation between environmental variables and the
sinking behavior of the fouled plastics should be established for a better prediction of their fate in the
freshwater environment.
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Chen, Xianchuan; Xiong, Xiong; Jiang, Xiaoming; Shi, Huahong; Wu, Chenxi