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microplastics in water

Many restaurants and other foodservice businesses have banned the distribution and use of single-use plastic straws in their establishments. While this is an admirable attempt to help prevent plastic from reaching water sources, the results of recent research suggest that more significant efforts to overcome humans’ dependence on plastics need to occur.

Because of humans’ excessive use of plastic for everything from grocery bags to beverage bottles and food wrappers to fishing nets, about 13 million tons of plastic show up in oceans, lakes, and rivers annually. Plastic does not decompose; rather, it breaks into tiny pieces as it gets tossed around in oceans, rivers, and storm drains. Researchers at the University of Surrey and Deakin’s Institute for Frontier Materials investigated the effects of plastic pollution in water. They determined that the freshwater that enters water and wastewater plants contains perhaps millions of tiny pieces of plastic that existing water treatment plants are not designed to detect, remove, or effectively treat. Instead, current treatment procedures tend to cause plastic pieces to break into even smaller pieces. This means that “treated” water that people drink or that enters water bodies has nano- and microplastics in it.

The researchers emphasized that no one knows the effect that ingesting hundreds or even thousands of minute pieces of plastic will have on the health of humans or aquatic animals. Therefore, water and wastewater treatment facilities urgently need novel techniques to detect and remove nano- and microplastics from water.

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