Micro plastics, as the name suggests are plastic particles .5-5 mm in size, which have become a paramount issue in the marine environment. The biggest source of micro plastic formation is the fragmentation of larger plastic materials like plastic bottles by mechanical forces like waves and photochemical processes in the marine environment. Heavy media attention has also been given to the direct use of industrial abrasives, exfoliants and cosmetic products as a source of micro plastic. Cosmetic products contain micro beads that reach the sea via sewage. Shedding of synthetic fibers from textiles during domestic washing also contributes as a source of micro plastic in the environment. All in all, it has been found that consumer and industrial manufacture of plastic products have been the main source of micro plastic pollution of the marine environment.

Micro plastics have the potential of endangering the lives of many sea creatures. Assuming them to be food, micro plastics are absorbed by many organisms via the digestive tract. Turtles and sea birds can consume micro plastics as well, mistaking it for food. Furthermore, toxic substances like Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) attach to these small particles and enter the food chain. Successive biological magnification would then ultimately be harmful to seafood eaters and have the potential. Plastics have been hypothesized to release internal toxins and adsorbed POPs when exposed to heat and there is a risk of toxins leaching into the hot sand. As a result, micro plastic pollution of coastlines is likely to not only be an eye sore for the average beach goer but potentially a toxic danger after prolonged heat exposure.

This is where Sea Turtles Forever (STF) (www.seaturtlesforever.com) comes into the picture! Sea Turtles Forever has been working in the field of marine sea turtle conservation along the Pacific coasts of Costa Rica and Oregon for 11 years. STF has designed an easy to use clean up solution for coastal communities to adopt for their beach remediation efforts cleaning the beach of these harmful particles.

STF Microplastic Filtration System is a carbon neutral, manually operated microplastic filtration system designed to remediate a beach environment to its pristine state.  Each system is operated by three users, one to load the filtration system with polluted sand and two to operate the filter as shown in the pictures above allowing clean pristine sand to pass through the filter.


But the current process is very time consuming and laborious, requiring a lot of manpower. In order to come up with a more efficient solution, a group of students, part of the student organization, Engineers for a Sustainable World at Northwestern University are prototyping machines that could be potentially used for more efficient microplastic filtration.

For any information or questions, feel free to contact Aniket Lila at aniketlila2017@u.northwestern.edu.

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