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Researchers find a way to use okra to purify microplastics from water

When you wash these clothes, the particles can end up in the sewers and eventually in the sea.

The slimy okra may soon be used as a microplastics filter. |
Microplastics are tiny plastic particles. They are created when pieces of plastic in the environment or in the sea disintegrate into tiny pieces, but they also come from synthetic clothing made from nylon and polyester. When you wash these clothes, the particles can end up in the sewers and eventually in the sea.

Microplastics in your toothpaste

The microplastics in the sea are then eaten by fish. And so it then comes back to us, when we munch on a salmon steak in the evening. But it is also found in shampoo, toothpaste, honey and makeup. So it ends up with us, humans, no matter what.

The health risks of microplastics

What microplastics do to our bodies, little is known about them. Research on them has only recently begun. In the Netherlands, a consortium started it in 2019, as one of the first countries to investigate the health risks of the plastic particles.

The first alarming results are emerging from that, although more research is needed to draw really firm conclusions. One study shows that microplastics can reach the brain. A follow-up study must show whether that is actually harmful.

Okra is now widely used as part of a vegetable stew, such as Gumbo, a New Orleans stew.

Filtering microplastics from water

Now, microplastics can already be filtered out of water, but this is done with artificial chemicals. The researchers at Tarleton State University in Texas wanted to find a natural alternative to that. They examined aloe vera, cactus, fenugreek, tamarind and psyllium a fiber made from the skins of various seeds.

Okra with fenugreek or tamarind

Okra was found to work best. Combined with fenugreek, it can purify ocean water of microplastics. And the plant’s polymers, when combined with tamarind, can best purify plastics from freshwater.

According to researcher Rajini Srinivasan, the okra extracts work just as well as the artificial chemicals currently used. She hopes that her research team’s findings can be commercialized and scaled up so that more microplastics can be naturally filtered out of water.