All facets of our society have been found to contain microplastics. Small pieces of plastic are now one of the greatest dangers to humanity, and they can be found everywhere from Antarctica's new snow to the lungs of healthy adults and, unfortunately, a counterattack may soon be within reach.
Scientists find that new material clean water of microplastics. Using a new magnetic powder material, scientists from Australia and Pakistan have developed a rapid method of removing microplastics and other contaminants from wastewater.
Dr. Nasir Mahmood, the project's creator and a co-lead researcher, claims that the nano-pillar structured materials generate no secondary pollutants. During his doctorate studies, the first author and scholar, Muhammad Haris, came up with the idea for magic powder. The results of their efforts have been published in the Chemical Engineering Journal.
After a brief period of agitation in the wastewater, the nanopillared structures and the microplastic particles they have absorbed are retrieved using a magnet.
Wastewater treatment systems are unable to identify plastic garbage after it has broken down into shards thinner than 1 millimeter. This is equivalent to 1,000 times the thickness of human hair. Before it can be washed into river or ocean waters and enter the food chain, however, scientists have invented a novel substance that can collect and remove it.
The powdered substance, which is derived from waste products, has a nano-sized structure that traps plastics of varying transparency.
It’s a porous material with a special surface that can react with microplastics.- Nicky Eshtiaghi, Australia's RMIT University
Other contaminants may be sucked up by it as well. Due to the powder's magnetic properties, it may be readily filtered out of the water after usage.
Due to both lack of appropriate and easy detection instruments and lack of technology for removing microplastic smaller than 1 micrometer, a huge amount of microplastic [is] released into bays and the sea.- Nicky Eshtiaghi, Australia's RMIT University
While wastewater treatment plants can filter out larger pieces of microplastic, the smallest fragments escape.
When plastic ends up in rivers, it becomes a sponge for other contaminants. The plastic and the pollutants are then passed up the food chain when aquatic creatures consume it. Research conducted in Canada found that 99 percent of fish analyzed included at least one piece of microplastic, with the tiniest fish exhibiting the greatest percentage.
It is not only seafood and packed meat that includes microplastics; studies have also identified them in bottled water, fresh produce, and sea salt. As would be expected, plastic has also been found in people, and for the first time this year, microplastics have been found in human blood.
What this implies for human health is still unclear, but according to Eshtiaghi, previous research has shown that even the tiniest bits of microplastic may remain in the body and may lead to autoimmune illnesses, cancer, infertility, and other issues.
Although nano-sized filters have been developed expressly for the purpose of plastic cleanup, they are still too large to catch even the tiniest bits left behind by conventional filters.
Faster plastic degradation via cleanup methods may cause the release of additional pollutants and yet not be effective enough for wastewater treatment facilities. The scientists claim their new technology can be put to use in just an hour. The collected plastic may then be reused or recycled.
The team led by Eshtiaghi is now on the hunt for corporate backers to help with the technology's commercialization. Of fact, even if it were to operate well in sewage treatment facilities, it would only be a fraction of the answer: There is already a lot of microplastic in the water, and it is unclear how this technology would really perform in the wild.
Finding a way to prevent the production of new plastic waste is still the biggest obstacle. This includes both widely recognized forms of plastic waste, such as plastic packaging, and less visible forms, such as the millions of tiny plastic fibers that can wash off synthetic clothing when you do the laundry.