Promising research out of the BioProducts Institute at the University of British Columbia could help Canadians tackle one of the most pressing environmental concerns of the modern era: micro-plastic pollution.
The solution from the Institute is ingenious: natural plant compounds and wood dust can combine to create a filter that traps virtually all micro-plastic particles in water.
Microplastics—tiny pieces of plastic debris constantly shedding from everything like clothes to industrial waste—are a rapidly growing concern globally, and keeping them out of Canadian water supplies is a serious challenge.
Some studies have suggested that the vast majority of tap water is already contaminated with micro-plastics. And still, current solutions to this expanding problem lack feasibility.
“Most solutions proposed so far are costly or difficult to scale up,” Dr. Orlando Rojas, the Canada Excellence Research Chair in Forest Bioproducts for UBC, informed UBC News. “We’re proposing a solution that could potentially be scaled down for home use or scaled up for municipal treatment systems.”
Unlike plastic filters, the BioProducts solution “does not contribute to further pollution as it 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,” according to Rojas.
It is a critical component of Rojas’ role at UBC to cultivate next-generation materials from renewable, forest-based resources. Innovating advanced materials is key for reinvention of the Canadian forest industry, he says, with benefits to Canada including a cleaner environment and reduced dependency on non-renewable resources.
“Microplastics pose a growing threat to aquatic ecosystems and human health, demanding innovative solutions,” Rojas asserts.
The BioProducts solution trapped 95% to 99.9% of plastic particles in water, according to data from an analysis of the innovation.
“We’re thrilled that the BioProducts Institute’s multidisciplinary collaboration has brought us closer to a sustainable approach to combat the challenges posed by these plastic particles,” the professor stated.
Dr. Peter Dauvergne, a UBC professor of global environmental politics, calls the “plastics crisis” a “complex and multi-layered” problem.
He doesn’t see government regulation having a significant impact on micro-plastics pollution, according to an interview for the Ubyssey.
Rather, advances in clean tech and novel approaches may be our only hope out of this mess.
“It may be too hard to regulate it,” Dauvergne told Ubyssey. “It may need to be done through technological upgrading.”
Check out a host of other BC-based startups tackling pollution problems in Canada.