Nanotechnology – an Environmental Breakthrough

Nanotechnology

9Although many are not willing to acknowledge or accept it yet, the science is definitive – we are facing an environmental crisis. Too long have we ignored the red flags that the environment has been solemnly waving at us; the habitat destruction, ice cap liquefaction, ocean acidification, holes in the ozone layer and forests setting ablaze as we saw recently in the amazon rain forest, otherwise dubbed ‘the lungs of the earth’.

While we wait for larger scale implementation of damage limitation for the environment, we do have a fairly wide awareness of the plethora of small daily changes we can make to minimise our contribution to environmental damage. Examples of these include abstaining from plastic straws, bags and other single-use plastics, using public transport a little more or walking rather than using a car, switching to environmentally friendly detergents, soaps, shampoos, etc., or boycotting the dairy and meat industries.

Despite this knowledge, many companies are still spitting out copious amounts of plastic which is slowly but surely filling up the sea and wreaking havoc on marine life. To help put this into perspective, here are some facts and statistics on plastic.

  • Studies have predicted that by 2040, the ocean will contain more plastic than fish
  • It is currently estimated that the weight of plastic in the sea amounts to around 269,000 tonnes
  • Of examined marine life, scientists found plastic in 36% of seals, 100% marine turtles, 59% of whales and 40% of sea birds
  • Scientists have recently discovered microplastics buried deep within arctic ice
  • Since the 1950s, approximately 8.3 billion tonnes of plastic has been produced
  • There are around 5 trillion pieces of plastic in the oceans
  • 700 marine species have been documented by scientists as being affected by ocean plastic

We are all well aware of the catastrophic effects of plastic on the environment but since there is still so much plastic in production and used in so many products we’ve become accustomed to using – it’s near enough impossible for everyone to totally cut out their plastic use – this is where nanotechnology comes in. Breakthroughs in nanotechnology research have resulted in the creation of a type of ‘plastic’ which, unlike plastic as we currently know it, can biodegrade, therefore minimising the need for non-degradable, toxic plastics whilst also meaning little change to our daily routines would be necessary in terms of cutting out all plastic. This way, we can have the best of both worlds.

The key difference between traditional plastic and this new biodegradable kind is the formula with which it is created. By introducing nanoparticles such as PLA (PolyLacticAcid) as a substitute for the usual synthetic polymers, biodegradation is stimulated and encouraged. One reason for this reaction is the sourcing of the nanoparticles – corn cobs – this natural source is, of course, already biodegradable so the ability to utilise nature and nanotechnology to create a better world is within our grasp.

 

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