When plastic waste breaks down into the smallest fragments, less than 1 micrometer wide—or 1,000 times finer than human hair—it can’t be detected at wastewater treatment plants. But researchers have developed a new material that can capture and remove it before it washes into river or ocean waters and enters the food chain.
The material, which comes in the form of a powder and is made from recycled waste, has a nano-sized structure designed to catch invisible plastic. “It’s a porous material with a special surface that can react with microplastics,” says Nicky Eshtiaghi, a chemical engineering professor at Australia’s RMIT University who leads a research team that developed the technology. It can also capture other pollutants. The powder is magnetic, so it can easily be removed from the water after use.