Our aquamarine oceans hide millions of tiny plastic LEGO pieces in them, and a recent study shows that these little rascals will outlive us and our children.
The study was led by the University of Plymouth. 50 LEGO bricks from the beaches of southwest England were collected and compared to the LEGO blocks in their original condition.
These blocks matched the items sold in the 1970s and 80s; however, regardless of the decades-past, they were largely intact while showing degrees of yellowing and blunting. By researching their chemical components, the researchers were able to pin down the decaying process in the marine environment.
Estimations show that a classic LEGO brick would take between 100 and 1,300 years to fully disintegrate at the sea. The process would depend on the variations in the composition and the marine weathering it would experience.
The study lead Dr. Andrew Turner stated, "LEGO is one of the most popular children's toys in history and part of its appeal has always been its durability. It is specifically designed to be played with and handled, so it may not be especially surprising that despite potentially being in the sea for decades, it isn't significantly worn down. However, the full extent of its durability was even a surprise to us."
He talked about the testing by saying, "The pieces we tested had smoothed and discolored, with some of the structures having fractured and fragmented, suggesting that as well as pieces remaining intact they might also break down into microplastics. It once again emphasizes the importance of people disposing of used items properly to ensure they do not pose potential problems for the environment."
To give you an idea of how serious the situation is, let us explain this: in one example, 5 million bits of LEGO that were stored in a container ship fell to the ocean in 1997. Moreover, it is estimated that 2 million blocks have been flushed down the toilet by children. We don't know for sure how effective waste treatment was at the time, and this says that an unknown proportion of flushed LEGO bricks may be floating in the waves.
On this day in 1997, nearly 5 million bits of #Lego, much of it sea themed, fell into the ocean when a huge wave hit the cargo ship Tokio Express, washing 62 containers overboard. Among the pieces lost were tiny minifig heads, their faces now mostly blank after decades at sea. pic.twitter.com/ex0ajN6vSl— Lego Lost At Sea (@LegoLostAtSea) February 13, 2020
While voluntary organizations like LEGO Lost at Sea Project have recovered thousands of pieces of plastic from our beaches, the plastic problem remains a serious issue that needs to be addressed immediately.
This study is an important reminder that our actions matter. How we dispose of everyday household items is a thing that many of us don't think about; however, we need to be smarter regarding our daily choices.
Next time you're at the beach, look for little colorful brick at the bottom of the sea. They might have belonged to a little child who was particularly angry at the situation in Vietnam. Who knows.
The study was published in Environmental Pollution.