microplastics in water

What are Microplastics and How to Remove Them From Water?

Table of contents

  1. What is Microplastic?
  2. How do Microplastics Get into the Water?
  3. What are the Effects of Microplastics?
  4. What is the Solution to Remove Microplastics from water?
  5. How Do Water Filters Remove Microplastics?
  6. Filtering Microplastics Process with Reverse Osmosis
  7. Tackling Microplastics Issue at the Root Level
  8. Summing Up

What is microplastic?

Microplastics are tiny pieces of plastic that are too small to see with the naked eye. They come from things like broken plastic bottles and small beads in products like face scrubs. These tiny plastics can end up in our oceans, rivers, and even in the air we breathe. They’re a problem because they can harm animals and the environment.

These tiny plastic particles have made their way into the most remote corners of the planet. From the Arctic to our farmlands, microplastics are turning up everywhere – even in the food we eat and the water we drink. It’s surprising to know that plastic too small for our eyes to see is now practically unavoidable. With plastic use continuing to rise, water sources have alarmingly become contaminated with microplastics.

The good news is that we can take action to reduce our exposure. Water filtration systems exist that can remove microplastics from drinking water. Installing these systems, especially if you rely on tap water, is a smart preventative step for your health. But first, let’s understand the detailed information about microplastics, their effects, and their extraction from drinking water.

Also read: Chlorine in Drinking Water and its Side effects

How do Microplastics Get into the Water?

Basically, microplastics are a growing concern when it comes to environmental pollution. These tiny plastic particles, measuring less than 5mm, have made their way into ecosystems across the globe. Some microplastics are manufactured small, like the microbeads in facial scrubs or industrial abrasives used for sandblasting. Others form when larger plastics break apart into smaller fragments over time.

Microplastics have been found to contaminate drinking water through various pathways:

  • Surface runoff can wash microplastics from landfills and urban areas into rivers and lakes used for drinking water.
  • Wastewater effluent contains microplastics that are not filtered out by treatment plants before being discharged into water sources.
  • Plastic waste like bottles, bags and wrappings degrade over time into tiny microplastic particles that leach into ground and surface water.
  • The plastic bottles, jugs, pipes and storage tanks used to contain drinking water can shed microplastics into the water they hold.

Proper waste disposal, water treatment improvements, infrastructure upgrades, and reducing single-use plastics are all changes that can reduce microplastic pollutants in drinking water.

What are the Effects of Microplastics?

The amount of microplastics in our oceans is staggering – according to the UN, there may be up to 51 trillion microplastic particles suspended in seawater. These tiny plastic pieces are consumed by marine life, allowing microplastics to accumulate up the food chain. Recent studies have detected microplastics in various foods and beverages that people commonly consume, including beer, honey, and tap water. Worryingly, microplastics have now been found in human stool samples as well. It’s clear these plastic particles are permeating ecosystems globally and impacting human health.

The health impacts of ingesting microplastics are still being researched, but early studies raise some concerns. Plastics often contain chemical additives like stabilizers or flame retardants that may be toxic if consumed. As microplastics accumulate in animal tissues, these chemicals could also transfer up the food chain to humans eating contaminated seafood or livestock.

What is the Solution to Remove Microplastics from water?

Luckily, there are some good options for removing pesky microplastics from drinking water right at home. The most effective filtration systems are reverse osmosis, distillation, and ultrafiltration. These guys can filter out plastic particles ranging from crazy small, like 100 nanometers, up to the larger 5-millimeter bits. One micron equals 1000 nanometers. So to filter the smallest 100-nanometer microplastics, you need a filter with a 0.1 micron rating or lower. Both reverse osmosis and ultrafiltration fit the bill, with teeny tiny micron ratings capable of catching those itty bitty plastic pieces.
Distillers work a little differently by evaporating water and then condensing it again, leaving the microplastics behind in the process. Pretty cool, right?

How Do Water Filters Remove Microplastics?

When it comes to microplastic removal, carbon filters alone may not be the best bet. While they do reduce microplastic levels, carbon filters don’t eliminate them completely. The reason is the size of the filter pores. Granular activated carbon (GAC) filters have carbon particles ranging from 0.8 to 1 mm, while denser carbon block filters use carbon powder less than 0.18 mm. Unfortunately, this leaves gaps where many tiny microplastics can slip through.

The normal TDS of RO water is considered to be around 50 ppm and 150 (less than 300 ppm) ppm. When it comes to removing microplastics, reverse osmosis is the best method! With its incredibly tiny 0.0001 micron pore size, reverse osmosis filtration is unrivalled in its ability to separate solids like microplastics from water. Unlike other methods that may allow small particles to sneak by, reverse osmosis’ microscopic membrane traps microplastics of all sizes. This complete separation leaves nothing behind but pure, plastic-free water.

Filtering Microplastics Process with Reverse Osmosis

Reverse osmosis filtration is highly effective in eliminating almost all microplastics from drinking water, achieving a remarkable 99.9% removal rate. The process is particularly efficient in reducing elevated levels of microplastics and various other impurities present in the water. Standard reverse osmosis systems typically consist of three filtration stages, although some systems incorporate four or five stages for enhanced purification.

The initial phase involves the water passing through a sediment filter, which efficiently decreases the concentration of larger contaminants like dirt, sand, rust, and minuscule particles. This not only purifies the water but also safeguards the reverse osmosis membrane from potential damage in subsequent phases.

Following the sediment filter, the water undergoes treatment by an activated carbon filter. This stage effectively eliminates unwelcome taste and odour-causing elements like chlorine, enhancing the overall quality of the water. In a three-step reverse osmosis setup, the last phase involves the use of a reverse osmosis membrane.

In this stage, water is pressurized while it moves through a semipermeable membrane. This crucial step is where the majority of contaminants are removed from the water. The reverse osmosis membrane is equipped with extremely tiny pores (measuring 0.001 microns), enabling water to flow through while sweeping away tiny impurities, including microplastics, which are then discarded.

Tackling Microplastics Issue at the Root Level

Besides reverse osmosis systems, a couple of other quick fixes for microplastics are boiling water or using a filtering water bottle. But for the long term, to reduce the effect of microplastic effects on humans and other living organisms to treat the cause – plastic pollution itself. Reducing single-use plastics, properly disposing of waste, and supporting policies that limit microplastics are key to curtailing this issue at the source. So filtering water is great, but long term, addressing root causes paves the way for cleaner water worldwide. 

Summing Up

In summary, we can keep our water safe by using filters like reverse osmosis to get rid of tiny plastic bits called microplastics. But to really solve the problem, we should also stop using so much plastic, throw it away properly, and support rules that stop microplastics from getting into the environment in the first place. That way, we can have clean water for everyone and help protect our planet.

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