Tarleton Researchers Work to Remove Microplastics from Wastewater

STEPHENVILLE, Texas — Tarleton State University researchers led by Dr. Rajani Srinivasan have demonstrated that combinations of food-grade plant extracts, including those from okra, aloe, cactus and psyllium, have the power to remove microplastics from wastewater.

Findings were presented at the March 20-24 virtual spring meeting of the American Chemical Society.

The health effects of ingesting microplastics are unclear, but studies suggest that people unintentionally consume tens of thousands of particles every year.

“We think that microplastics by themselves may not be much of a health hazard, but anything they get into or any type of toxic substance that gets attached to them could go inside our bodies and cause problems,” said Associate Professor Srinivasan, the principal investigator for the project.

In the typical wastewater treatment process, microplastics are removed from water in two steps. Those that float are simply skimmed off. However, this step only removes a fraction of the total microplastics that are present. The rest must be removed by adding flocculants, or sticky chemicals that attract microplastics and form large clumps. The clumps then sink to the bottom of the water and can be separated from it.