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Scientists develop unreal solution to get toxic microplastics out of our drinking water: '[They] pose a growing threat'

The study's filtration technology may provide a natural and effective solution.

BioCap, Solution to get toxic microplastics out of our drinking water

Photo Credit: iStock

Widely available sawdust and plant-based materials could be the keys to filtering plastic from our drinking water, according to research led by scientists at the University of British Columbia.

Although it's still at the testing stage, the study's filter technology may provide a natural and effective solution to the problem of microplastics in water supplies.

The filtration material, which the researchers named "bioCap" and described in a recent paper, is composed of wood sawdust and tannins. Tannins are "natural plant compounds that make your mouth pucker if you bite into an unripe fruit," as a university news release described them. 

The scientists showed in tests that the sawdust with tannins removed 95.2 to 99.9% of microplastics in a column of water.

"There are microfibers from clothing, microbeads from cleansers and soaps, and foams and pellets from utensils, containers, and packaging," Orlando Rojas, director of the university's  BioProducts Institute and the project's lead researcher, stated for the news release. "[O]ur bioCap solution was able to remove virtually all of these different microplastic types."

Microplastic particles are generally said to be no longer than 0.2 inches long — about the length of a grain of rice

One study showed that 83% of drinking water samples taken from around the world contained microplastics, with 94% of U.S. samples containing them, the Guardian reported. 

The World Health Organization said that "no reliable information suggests" that microplastic in drinking water is a human health concern. However, it also points to "insufficient information" on the topic and recommends generally firmer control of plastics getting into the environment. 

Other experts are wary of microplastics because of the limited information, the known toxicity associated with certain plastics, and how widespread microplastics have become.

The bioCap technology may provide some peace of mind for those who would prefer to keep plastics out of their hydration routines.

Various other researchers are also looking at ways to remove plastic from water, including one team in Korea that reportedly removed a similar percentage of particles using advanced filtration.

The advantages bioCap has are its use of natural materials and its flexibility.

SciTechDaily called it "a scalable and sustainable solution to microplastic pollution."

"Most solutions proposed so far are costly or difficult to scale up," Rojas noted for the news release. "We're proposing a solution that could potentially be scaled down for home use or scaled up for municipal treatment systems." 

He added that bioCap "uses renewable and biodegradable materials: tannic acids from plants, bark, wood, and leaves, and wood sawdust — a forestry byproduct that is both widely available and renewable."

It's unclear how long it might take before this technology could be used widely, but the research team suggested that it could be scaled up quickly with an industry partner. Rojas told the Vancouver Sun that the BioProducts Institute already works with forest companies to supply wood byproducts for their creative approach.

"Microplastics pose a growing threat to aquatic ecosystems and human health, demanding innovative solutions," Rojas said.

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