Researchers demonstrate use of okra, aloe to eliminate microplastics from wastewater

Industry Insights

Okra finds use as a master thickener for stews and soups in many cuisines. The use of okra and some other plants such as psyllium, cactus, and aloe now leaps to remove contaminants from water. The goo from these plants can clean water and wastewater of some types of solid contaminants, as well as some that are dissolved.

In a new development, researchers demonstrate that combinations of food-grade plant extracts can eliminate microplastics from wastewater.

The findings of the study will be presented at the spring meet of the American Chemical Society.

Importantly, the implications on health of ingesting microplastics are currently not clearly known, but studies suggest people unintentionally consume tens of thousands of microplastics every year.

While microplastics are not associated with much health hazard, but matter that seeps into or attaches to microplastics could get into the body and cause problems, stated the principal investigator of the project.

Typically, in a wastewater treatment process, microplastics are eliminated from water in two stages: First, the ones that float are simply removed from the top. This step only eliminates a fraction of total microplastics that are present. The remaining microplastics must be eliminated by adding flocculants, or gummy chemicals that pull microplastics and form large clusters. The clusters then sink to the bottom of the water to be decontaminated and can be separated.

Meanwhile, the team of researchers have been investigating to find nontoxic alternatives due to the potentially harmful nature of some of the substances used to eliminate contaminants. For example, polyacrylamide – which is a common flocculant – can be split into toxic chemicals under certain conditions. Hence, this does not help to clean water if potentially toxic substances are added to eliminate the pollutants.

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