Before I go through how can we reduce microplastic pollution, let’s touch first on what is microplastics, from where they come and why is it bad for us.
Ever wondered where this huge amount of plastic you see around yourself goes? It has been studied that it can stay in the environment for up to 1000 years before it is completely decomposed. Due to the excessive use, there’s a growing concern of Microplastic pollution in today’s world.
What is microplastic? and how can we reduce microplastic pollution?
When did we discover Microplastic?
The term ‘Microplastic’ was first introduced by a marine biologist Richard Thompson, in 2004. According to the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Microplastic is any type of plastic having a size less than 5mm. It is estimated that oceans have around 15-51 trillion microplastic pieces that come from a variety of sources including sewage treatment plants, paper and packaging industry, plastic water bottles, fishing, tourism, agriculture, illegal dumping, cosmetic industry, and clothing manufacturing.
What are the categories of Mircoplastics?
Microplastics are generally classified in two categories:
- Plastics fragments that are already 5mm or less before they enter environment are called primary microplastics.
- Whereas, degraded or fragmented particles of large plastic products are called secondary microplastics.
Microplastic pollution has gained attention mainly because of the adverse potential impacts associated with it. Many pieces of research are being carried out to combat this alarming situation. Here are some ways we can help Earth cleanse out the plastic waste.
How can we reduce microplastic pollution?
1. Reusing Plastic
As a fuel instead of dumping it in landfills is a good option as we covered in our article about waste management. Plastic can be incinerated and used as an energy source. However, recycling plastic is a better option. One such example is polyethylene terephthalate. It is a transparent material usually used in plastic bottles. It is easier to recycle a clear or transparent plastic than a coloured one. But plastic still makes its way into water bodies because not all plastic produced can be reused or recycled.
2. Improve biodegradation
Numerous microorganisms are found to potentially biodegrade, consume and decompose microplastics using certain enzymes. These biodegraded plastics can be used as a source of carbon. Using microbes in wastewater treatment plants can prove to be a good option as the number of microplastics entering the environment would decrease.
Another option is the production of biodegradable plastic. But even till now, every plastic labelled biodegradable can only break down under certain conditions such as heating in high temperatures.
3. Raise Awareness
The small scale yet most important solution is creating awareness among masses regarding potential effects of microplastic pollution. This can be done through campaigns, workshops and mass media especially targeting urban environments.
4. Ban Single-Use Plastic
Cutting the flow of plastics is key. More than sixty countries including China, Japan, UK, and the USA have banned single-use plastics. Similarly, at the 4th UN Environment Assembly held in 2019, ministries of 157 countries committed to reducing the production of single-use plastic by the year 2030.
5. Improve Economic Policies
National and regional economic policies play a crucial role in sustainable development. Therefore governments have responsibilities to develop policies that:
- Identify and quantify Microplastic sources
- Target zero-waste strategy
- Invest in plastic recycling
- Link with the international policies and programs
- Encourage researchers for innovations and advancements aiming sustainable practices
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What else can help to eliminate microplastics from our world?
A major source of microplastics, wastewater treatment plants. So eliminating it from the effluent before it enters the water body is important. Physical and biological treatment processes including sedimentation, flotation, filtration, and flocculation have been reported to effectively remove a major portion of microplastics from the waste stream. 84% of microplastics were removed by these processes in an Italian wastewater treatment plant.
In addition, some advanced/tertiary stage technologies also enhance microplastics removal. For instance, treatment options like dissolved air flotation, membrane bioreactors and rapid sand filters can remove more than 95% microplastics from effluent. However, one needs to understand that plastic is not completely destroyed, it just changes phase. Therefore, an efficient sludge disposal system should be considered so that the plastic doesn’t contaminate the environment again.
Last update on 2020-09-16 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API
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Research and innovations can help to reduce microplastic pollution
Science is all about innovations and advancements. There’s a dire need for research related to Microplastic pollution removal options. Following are two such innovative ideas that have addressed this issue in an effective manner;
1. The ‘Banana’
The name of this specially designed apparatus is because of its distinctive shape. It was developed by two students of the Netherland in 2019 in order to eliminate microplastics from entering water bodies. It has a front wall that stops large litter to enter and clog the system. The smaller waste particles are carried in by the flowing water and enter the waste storage containers attached to the wall. Water cannot flow back and the microplastics are stored in these bags. Once these bags are filled, they are replaced with the new ones. It is a tested, validated and proven system under different circumstances.
2. Magnetic fluid
An 18-year old boy topped Google Science Fair with his incredible creation of a magnetic fluid inspired by NASA’s magnetic rocket fuel. He suspended magnate powder in vegetable oil and injected this fluid in Microplastic contaminated water. The solution turned black and when a magnet was placed inside the container, it soaked up all the fluid including most of the microplastics. This process has proven to be reducing microplastics by up to 88%.
Conclusion on how to reduce microplastic pollution
Microplastic pollution is a global problem and needs immediate attention. We can only deal with this issue if we opt for an environmentally friendly lifestyle, study to fill the research gaps, and develop policies based on strategic environmental assessment.