Waterloo Researchers Develop Technique to Eliminate 94% of Microplastics from Water.

University of Waterloo researchers in Waterloo, Ontario have developed a novel technology capable of removing harmful microplastics from polluted water with an efficiency of 94 percent.

The escalating issue of plastic pollution in the environment has raised significant concerns on a global scale. The adverse effects of plastic pollution on the environment and human health have been frequently highlighted.

Nanoplastics, which are a thousand times smaller than microplastics, have been identified to have a substantial negative impact on aquatic and human life. However, the available options for eliminating nanoplastics from bodies of water like oceans and lakes are limited.

Professor Tizazu Mekonnen, a specialist in polymer engineering from the University of Waterloo’s Chemical Engineering department, led a team of researchers in developing a new approach to address small plastic waste and eradicate nanoplastics from wastewater systems.

“Rationally designed plastics not only can be part of the solution to reduce climate change but can have a positive impact in economic development and create jobs,” Mekonnen said. “This technology has the potential to significantly reduce the carbon footprint of the plastics industry.”

Mekonnen and his graduate student Rachel Blanchard employed thermal decomposition to transform epoxy into activated carbon—a substance capable of extracting nanoplastics.

The activated carbon was then utilized to treat water contaminated with nanoplastics, which were produced from polyethylene terephthalate, a common form of polyester found in plastic bottles and clothing items like fleece. These minute pollutants pose a greater health hazard compared to microplastics due to their ability to infiltrate cells and evade detection.

The technique achieved a 94 percent removal rate of nanoplastics by entrapping them within the porous structure of the waste plastic, generating activated carbon.

“To end the plastic waste crisis and reduce the environmental impact of plastics production, we need to implement a circular economy approach that considers every stage of the plastic journey,” Mekonnen said. 

The researchers intend to further their investigation by applying this purification method to various types of plastics and conducting scaled-up trials in municipal wastewater treatment facilities, which often contain an assortment of contaminants beyond microplastics.

Source :University of Waterloo

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