The world’s leading trade fair for environmental technologies, IFAT, took place in May 2018. One of the main topics of discussion at the event was microplastic waste and its associated risks around the world.
Various research institutes and organisations have been actively looking at sources, avoidance strategies, measurement methods and handling procedures for microplastic waste (plastic particles smaller than 5mm in diameter).
New technologies and solutions were demonstrated at IFAT 2018, which was held in Munich, Germany. The trade fair particularly focuses on water, sewage, waste and raw materials management.
Insights from IFAT 2018
The trade fair hosted the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research, which launched one of the world’s most ambitious research studies on plastic waste in the environment. This study will run until 2021, investing R522 million into 18 projects with 100 partners in science, industry, municipalities and other organisations.
Another key insight from IFAT 2018 was the Technical University (TU) of Berlin’s booth. Here, the TU Berlin Department of Urban Water Management showcased their project on tyre wear and how the microparticles of rubber get washed off roads and into waterways.
TU Berlin presented attendees with a sample kit for roadside examination of street runoff and rubber particles. The university is also working on a project dedicated to the removal of microplastics from the water cycle.
This project has been ongoing for just over two years and is looking for cheap but effective ways to filter microplastics from water, such as using soil filters or mesh screens.
Recycling industry can play a role
The head of the Division of Sustainable Production and Products in Waste Management at the German Environment Agency, Dr Bettina Rechenberg, says that the recycling industry can still play a larger role in combatting microplastics.
“The challenges we are facing in reducing plastics in the environment are many,” she says. “Upon reaching the end of its useful life, a product must either be recycled or disposed of,” she states. Her division places emphasis on recycling products where possible to avoid plastic waste in the environment.
“Our goal in this regard in [the] implementation of a multi-phase system that first and foremost avoids waste generation. Unavoidable waste should be suitable for reclaiming or recycling in one form or another; and if not, the waste generated by the product should be disposable in an environmentally safe fashion,” says Dr Rechenberg.
“Waste should be disposed of or recycled using a method that is exactly right for its characteristics, using the most technically and logistically suitable method from an environmental and cost standpoint,” she adds.
Recycling plants need to be able to deliver quality recycled materials to avoid plastic breaking and ending up in the environment as waste.
IFAT is looking at giving start-ups within the recycling and environmental technology sector an international expo of their own.
Image credit: IFAT
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