Lots of small particles of plastic are washing up on beaches and effecting marine life but the current process to clean it up is very time consuming. Now, a group of twelve engineers from the University of Sherbrooke think their invention can revolutionise how we clean-up plastics.
The research team has designed a machine they call the HoolaOne to remove microplastics from beaches. They will soon test their prototype in Hawaii.
Before the HoolaOne, if you wanted to extract microplastics, which are pieces of plastic 5 millimeters or smaller, you’d probably never make it through a whole beach. Workers would have to take samples of the beach sand in a mixing tray, add seawater, and then wait until the less-dense plastic rose to the top. This machine uses the same process but much more efficiently. Taking advantage of vacuums and pumps, it can gather samples and add sea water much more efficiently before returning the plastic free sand to the beach.
More and more microplastics are being found in the water and on beaches. These plastics can be found in products that we use every day like microbeads found in toothpaste, facial scrubs or pellets. Another contribution to the plastic problem is through microfibers that are a type of microplastic debris that comes off of synthetic items like rope of clothes. And of course, microplastics also come from larger pieces of plastic like water bottles and fishing line that are breaking down. In recent years, media has drawn attention to the impact of microplastics on sea turtles.
A new study from Florida State University is highlighting the effects these microplastics are having on sea turtles. The research shows that as more microplastic washes up on shore, the turtle’s sensitive incubation environments are being put at risk. The plastic fragments can retain heat better than sand, leaving the area at risk for temperature increases. This could cause problems for sea turtle eggs because the sex of a sea turtle is determined by the temperature of the sand.
The group took a closer look at the Northern Gulf of Mexico Loggerhead Recovery Unit’s 10 most important loggerhead turtle nesting sites. They found that all had been contaminated with microplastics. What was more worrisome was that the highest contents of microplastics were found consistently in the dunes where sea turtles tend to nest.
Inventions like the HoolaOne just might be a good beginning when it comes to cleaning up the microplastic problem. To save the world’s marine life more technologies and more effort is needed.