Could plants be the answer to the growing threat of microplastic pollution? Scientists at UBC’s Bioproducts Institute found that if you add tannins—natural plant compounds that make your mouth crinkle when you bite into raw fruit—to a layer of wood dust, you can create a filter that’s nearly as good as it is. Traps all microplastic particles. Water.

Although the experiment remains a laboratory set-up at this stage, the team is confident that the solution can be easily and cheaply scaled up once the right industry partners are found.

Microplastics are tiny pieces of plastic debris produced by the breakdown of consumer products and industrial waste. Keeping them out of the water supply is a major challenge, says Dr. Orlando Rojas, the institute’s scientific director and Canada Excellence Research Chair in Forest Bioproducts.

He cited a study that found virtually all tap water is contaminated with microplastics, and other research projecting that by 2025 more than 10 billion tons of mismanaged plastic waste will circulate in the environment.

“Most of the solutions proposed so far have been expensive or difficult to scale up. We are proposing a solution that can potentially be scaled down for domestic use or scaled up for municipal treatment systems. Our filter, Unlike plastic filters, does not contribute to further pollution because it uses renewable and biodegradable materials: tannic acid from plants, bark, wood and leaves, and wood sawdust – a forestry byproduct that is both widely available and renewable Is.

Holds a variety of plastics

For their study, the team analyzed particulate matter released from popular tea bags made from polypropylene. They found that their method (they’re calling it “BioCap”) traps anywhere from 95.2 percent to 99.9 percent of plastic particles in a water column, depending on the type of plastic. When tested in a mouse model, this process proved to prevent the accumulation of microplastics in the organs.

It is difficult to capture all the different types of microplastics in one solution, says Dr. Rojas, professor in the Department of Wood Science, Chemical and Biological Engineering and Chemistry at UBC, because they come in different shapes, sizes and electrical charges. ,

“There are microfibres from clothing, microbeads from cleansers and soaps, and foam and pellets from utensils, containers and packaging. By taking advantage of the different molecular interactions around tannic acid, our BioCap solution was able to remove all of these different microplastic types.” “

Collaborating on Sustainable Solutions

The UBC method was developed in collaboration with Professor Dr. Junling Guo of the Center for Biomass Materials and Nanointerfaces at Sichuan University in China. Marina Mehling (he/she), and Dr. Tianyu Guo, a PhD student in UBC’s Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering (he/she)Postdoctoral researcher at the Bioproducts Institute also contributed to this work.

“Microplastics pose a growing threat to aquatic ecosystems and human health, requiring innovative solutions,” said Dr. Rojas. “We are thrilled that the Bioproducts Institute’s multidisciplinary collaboration will help us address the challenges posed by these plastic particles.” brought us closer to a sustainable approach to combating it.” ,

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