Environment

Study shows Nanotechnology Could Be Used To Clean Up Microplastics In Our Oceans

Scientists have published a study on the use of nanocoils to break down microplastics.

It is estimated that there are 5.25 trillion pieces of plastic debris in oceans worldwide, the majority of which do not break down for hundreds of years. Plastics that do not break down rather fragment into microplastics, which are plastic particles smaller than 5 millimeters across. Recent studies have found that microplastics are in almost every water system in the world, even in our drinking water. They pose a very tangible threat to our health as well as to marine wildlife.

Nanocoils are reusable nano-sized reactors that create chemical reactions in order to break down the microplastics, turning plastic into carbon dioxide and water. The nanocoils don’t actually break down microplastics, but instead, the manganese inside the nanocoils generates free radicals (highly reactive oxygen molecules) that attack the microplastics and cause them to fragment into smaller pieces.

The study that was published in the journal Matter and describes how the nanotechnology attacked the microplastics . In the lab setting the microplastics were first separated from the other ingredients in facial cleansers and the nonacoils applied causing them to fragment into even smaller particles until they were converted into carbon dioxide and water.

Scientists think this technology could be applied to wastewater before it is released into the environment, therefore removing the microplastics before they reach the oceans and other water sources. Further research is planned, although it is not yet known if nanocoils will have the same effect on wastewater as it contains large clumps of organic material.

According to Conservation International, we dump 8 million metric tons into the oceans each year. By 2050, ocean plastic will outweigh all of the ocean’s fish and there is so much junk at sea, the debris has formed giant garbage patches. There are five of them around the world. The largest, the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, is estimated to contain 1.8 trillion pieces of trash and covers an area twice the size of Texas.