Pioneering project to tackle microplastic pollution on beaches

A new project has launched that aims to solve the problem of microplastic pollution on beaches.

Dr Richard Coulton, the inventor behind Siltbuster which tackles polluted water on construction, mine and industrial sites, is now turning his attention to solving the problem of plastic on beaches with the launch Sand Separation Systems, which is currently testing a method for separating microplastic particles from beach sand.

Dr Coulton says current beach cleaning technology is based on screening, which only removes beach debris such as seaweed and trash.

The screens are not capable of removing plastic particles that are smaller than 10mm in size which means they remain on the beach and eventually break down into the microplastic particles, eventually washing out to sea.

However, his technique is based on density rather than particle size.

The density of an individual plastic particle varies between 1 to 1.6 tonnes per cubic metre whereas sand is around 2.7, roughly two to three times heavier. His technology exploits this difference by using a combination of seawater and the sand to create a dense media upon which the plastic particles float.

The particles are floated off the top of the machine, along with the majority of the seawater, and are separated via an ultra-fine screen. Cleaned sand is discharged from the bottom of the machine and returned to the beach.

Early testing has recovered microplastics as small as 0.06mm, compared to the 10mm limit which current beach cleaning technology is capable of.

If further trials prove successful, he will look to develop a full working unit, with a view to going into commercial production within the next year to 18 months.

Dr Coulton said: ‘Separation of these finer plastic particles requires a different approach.

‘It demands a technology that’s capable of identifying the physical difference between tiny plastic and sand particles. The solution I’m working on not only does this but then exploits that difference  – actually using it to separate the plastic from the sand.’

‘All the signs suggest we’re onto something. We will certainly need some funding to take this to the next stage, but if it works then the pay-off for the planet – and the area in terms of engineering jobs and exports – will be huge.

‘It will be yet another example of a pioneering UK manufacturing business tackling a major global environmental problem.’

On Thursday (August 15), Dr Coulton will be live testing his prototype in Monmouth, Wales.

Photo Credit – Pixabay

Thomas Barrett

Thomas Barrett

Journalist. Follow him on Twitter

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