Drowning in Plastic: How Startups Tackle The Issue of Microplastic Pollution
Over the past few decades, plastic production has significantly increased, with nearly 400 million tonnes being generated each year. This, coupled with subpar waste management methods, such as insufficient recycling and irresponsible disposal, has played a major role in the mounting buildup of plastic in the environment. It is estimated that as of 2015, approximately 6300 metric tons (Mt) of plastic waste have been produced, out of which merely 9% has been recycled and 12% has been incinerated. The remaining 80% has been proliferating around the world ever since, contributing to near-permanent contamination and fueling the issue of microplastic pollution.
Although barely visible to the naked eye, microplastics pose a significant threat to both human and planetary health. These tiny (<5mm), non-biodegradable fragments of plastic debris make their way into the environment, jeopardizing the welfare of animals, humans, and various ecosystems. Their widespread presence disrupts the natural balance of our habitat, affecting anything from biodiversity, air quality, to soil health and functioning. Moreover, evidence suggests that chemicals found in microplastics have been associated with substantial adverse effects on human health, which encompass a range of concerns, impacting our digestive, respiratory, endocrine, reproductive, and immune systems.
Consequently, addressing the concerns over microplastic pollution has become an indispensable aspect of our quest for a sustainable future. Numerous startups around the globe are actively working to address this pressing issue, employing various strategies and technologies to combat the widespread presence of microplastics in the environment. Here are some examples:
- Ichthion, a British-Ecuadorian startup, delivers cutting-edge technologies aimed at removing plastics and synthetic debris from water sources and coastal areas, while providing data on the amount of plastic extracted. These innovative technologies including Azure, Cobalt and Ultramarine, are now being used by the Ocean Conservancy, a Washington-based environmental advocacy group.
- Instead of allowing plastic waste to accumulate in the environment, some startups focus on transformi
ng it into valuable resources. Dutch startup Van Plestic 3D engages in printing recycled products using plastic waste as feedstock. Its ultimate mission is to save as much plastic as possible from incineration which further pollutes the environment through toxic chemicals.
- Reducing microplastic presence in wastewater is another essential way of mitigating the adverse environmental and health impacts associated with microplastic pollution. PlanetCare, a Ljubljana-based greentech startup has developed innovative filters capturing 90% of synthetic fibers that are being released from textile products during each wash.
- Naturbeads, a startup commercializing biodegradable, cellulose-based ingredients, offers a sustainable alternative to microbeads used intentionally in personal care products due to their effective exfoliating properties. Although not a significant source of environmental pollution, these tiny particles still add on to the problem of aquatic plastic litter.
- Utopia Plastix is an Oklahoma-based startup offering alternatives for petroleum-based plastics. They encourage sustainability by utilizing polymers and materials naturally occuring in plants, which can be used in a wide variety of plastic applications, from single-use straws to building materials.
To conclude, the rapid growth in plastic production, coupled with inadequate waste management strategies, has given rise to the pressing issue of microplastic pollution. Startups have emerged as key contributors to tackling this challenge, offering innovative and practical solutions. These hold great promise in stopping the proliferation of plastic in our environment and mitigating the far-reaching consequences of microplastic pollution, safeguarding our planet for future generations.
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