Synthetic plastic does not break down organically, because it is man-made plastic. However, it surely breaks down, & the tiny particles of broken-down plastic are known as microplastics.
You can find microplastics everywhere on Earth, from deep in the oceans to inside wildlife & even in our own bodies.
The environment can be easily damaged by microplastics, & the worst part is that they are so small & omnipresent that it is almost impossible to clean them up. It’s hard for scientists to figure out ways around that problem, and one team of scientists in Melbourne, Australia, may have come up with the best one yet.
The RMIT University research team led by Prof. Nicky Eshtiaghi has created a magnetic nanoplate absorbent that can remove smaller microplastics at a much faster rate than any existing technologies available at present. According to Ph.D. candidate Muhammad Haris, the absorbent takes the form of a powder additive, that is added to water & attracts microplastics and dissolved pollutants. He says, “This whole process takes one hour, compared to other inventions taking days.”
“The adsorbent is prepared with special surface properties so that it can effectively and simultaneously remove both microplastics and dissolved pollutants from water. Microplastics smaller than 5 millimetres, which can take up to 450 years to degrade, are not detectable and removable through conventional treatment systems, resulting in millions of tonnes being released into the sea every year. This is not only harmful for aquatic life, but also has significant negative impacts on human health.”Dr Nasir Mahmood from the School of Science and Co-lead Researcher
Prof. Eshtiaghi says that it can also remove microplastics that are 1,000 times smaller than those that are currently delectable by existing wastewater treatment plants. The team’s study abstract reads, “The results suggest a promising pathway to addressing the removal of mixed contaminants from water in a single process & high lighting its potential in resolving critical industrial & domestic wastewater treatment.”
The material itself is cheap & sustainable, moreover, it creates no secondary pollutants or additional carbon footprint. Previous technological breakthroughs that could clean up microplastics include one that uses egg whites and another involving plastic-eating robotic fish.
Currently, it is hoped by Eshtiaghi & her team at RMIT University that their nano-pillared absorbent can be used by wastewater treatment plants to more efficiently & thoroughly clean their water, & they are on the hunt for industrial partners to help make that happen.