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Microplastics are most often associated with plastic waste that breaks down and then spreads everywhere in soil and water. But there are also microplastics that we manufacture for use in everything from artificial fertilizers to cosmetics. That microplastic is also spread in nature.
But now researchers from, among others, MIT in the USA have discovered a way to get rid of all this microplastic. Namely, they have developed a way to use silk instead of plastic.
The microplastics are most often used to encapsulate small particles of, for example, pesticides or vitamins, which are then packaged in larger pellets or pills. The researchers have developed a method where the silk wraps around the "payload" and encapsulates it just as well as the microplastics do.
The silk used does not have to be of any higher quality, which makes it possible to use silk that cannot be used in the clothing industry or that has worn out and been thrown away. Silk is naturally degradable and non-toxic so it would be an excellent replacement for microplastics from a sustainability perspective.
The European Chemicals Agency, ECHA, estimates that industry in Europe uses 145,000 tonnes of microplastics in their manufacturing processes each year. ECHA wants that number to reach zero as early as 2025. So there is a rush to find a replacement for the microplastics, and silk can now be the solution to the problem.