An EU-funded project to harness the Sun’s radiation to rid the oceans of plastic begins with a system developed at the KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Sweden.
The new technology will be used to break down micro-plastics from personal care products and tested for implementation in homes and wastewater treatment plants.
While exposure to sunlight can degrade plastics into harmless elements, it’s a slow process. In some cases, plastics can take several years to decompose.
Joydeep Dutta, chair of the Functional Materials division at KTH, says this system will speed up that process by making more efficient use of available visible light and ultraviolet rays from the Sun.
The system involves coatings with material made of nano-sized semiconductors that initiate and speed up a natural process called photocatalytic oxidation, Dutta adds.
In a test household, these nanomaterial-coated filter systems will be placed at the exit of wastewater from homes. Similarly, in wastewater treatment plants, these devices will be used to initiate micro-plastics degradation after classical treatments are completed.
Nearly every beach worldwide is reported to be contaminated by micro-plastics, according to the Norwegian Institute for Water Research. Along with contamination, marine life can ingest these plastics, which also adsorb pollutants such as DDT and PCB.
Dutta says: “These plastics will start accumulating in the food chain, transferring from species to species, with direct adverse consequences to human population.”
He added: “Tackling plastic pollution at its source is the most effective way to reduce marine litter.”
The project, titled Cleaning Litter by Developing and Applying Innovative Methods in European Seas (CLAIM), will also deploy floating booms at river mouths in Europe to collect visible plastic waste; and along ferry routes in Denmark, the Gulf of Lion and the Ligurian Sea.