The oceans are filled with an extremely large amount of plastic waste every day, and new oil slicks are also forming. When microplasts and oil slicks come into contact, a new type of waste is created. Canary scientists have come up with a new name for this type of waste, “Plastitar”. Oil is present in the valuations after shipwrecks and oil spills. Plastitar now floats on the shores of the islands and consists of tar balls and microplastics.

Combination of microplastics and oil

“No longer is the presence of plastic in the environment limited to microplastics or a bottle in the sea,” Javier Hernández-Borges, associate professor of analytical chemistry at the University of La Laguna in Tenerife, told The Guardian. Hernández-Borges coined the term plastitar. “Now it’s giving rise to new formations; in this case, one that combines two contaminants.”

Plastitar is a relatively new discovery. Scientists have noticed the presence of tar balls with microplasts until two years ago. This worrying finding was published in the journal Science of the Total Environment. Hardening tar is very sticky and when it comes in contact with plastics, they stick to it and become part of its structure. The tar full of plastic eventually hardens to form a massive sphere. The ocean is already at risk due to many types of waste. For example, the following are increasing in the ocean:

  • Pyroplastics – Melted plastic pieces that resemble rocks.
  • Plastiglomerates – The accumulation of melted plastic, basalt lava pieces and coastal sediments.

“It acts like Play-Doh,” Hernández-Borges explained. “And when waves carrying microplastics or any other kind of marine debris crash on to the rocks, this debris sticks to the tar.”

Plastitar can occur worldwide

Plastitar has already been found on several islands belonging to the Canary Islands. Researchers believe that this type of waste also occurs in other parts of the world, but has not yet been identified. Tar balls contained mainly polyethylene, which is the most common type of plastic. It is used to make many items, from plastic bags to toys, bottles and more. The discovery of plastite is worrying because it is a very complicated waste that pollutes the marine environment.

plastitar detail

“Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) present in tar, which are persistent organic pollutants that can bioaccumulate, have moderate to high acute toxicity to aquatic organisms. They can also act as endocrine disruptors and be carcinogenic, among others,” the study warned. “Its combination with plastic materials clearly supposes a double threat to the marine ecosystem with unknown environmental consequences, since plastics can be ingested by marine organisms causing intestinal blockage, internal injuries, oxidative stress and damage, inflammatory responses, among other important issues.”

Research into new types of waste is just beginning. more research is needed to determine the threat it poses to marine life.