Okra is one of those “controversial” foods, there are those who love and those who hate this particular food. But one discovery could make everyone like okra better: Scientists say it can be an effective and eco-friendly alternative to tackling microplastic pollution.
Researchers from Tarleton State University in Texas, USA have shown that okra extracts have the power to remove microplastics from wastewater.
Recall that recently, scientists identified for the first time the presence of microplastics in human blood and one of the routes by which these particles enter our body is precisely the water we drink.
Microplastics in the water?
One of the processes used to remove microplastics from water is to add flocculants or sticky chemicals that attract the microplastics and form large clumps, which sink and can then be removed from the water.
Research by scientists at Tarleton State University is aimed precisely at finding healthier alternatives commonly used flocculant, polyacrylamide, a fossil fuel-based gel that is also toxic for human consumption.
Researchers from Dr. Rajani Srinivasan’s team were studying the effectiveness of plant food extracts in removing textile contaminants from wastewater and decided to test their use in removing microplastics.
The results showed that plant-based flocculants were as good or better than chemicals. “These materials are environmentally friendly and non-toxic. They do not add any toxic materials to the water, so they are safe for the ecosystem,” Rajani said.
Scientists and undergraduate and master’s students in environmental sciences tested extracts of 7 plants: fenugreek, cactus, aloe, okra, tamarind and psyllium.
Okra against microplastics
After testing the extracts of the 7 plants separately and in different combinations, the conclusion is that okra polysaccharides worked better. Combination of okra extract and fenugreek was best for cleaning seawater and the combination of okra and tamarind worked best for freshwater samples.
In addition to not being harmful to health, plant-based flocculants can be used in existing water treatment processes. “The whole method of treatment with non-toxic materials uses the same infrastructure,” Dr Srinivasan said. “We don’t need to build anything new to incorporate these materials for water treatment purposes.”
They will continue to adapt ratios and combinations to optimize the removal of different types of microplastics from various water sources.
One of the next steps in the research is to expand the removal process into field studies outside of the lab and find ways to commercialize the method and remove microplastics from water at scale. industrial.