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Hohenstein is on a Mission to Reduce Microplastics Pollution in Wastewater

The Hohenstein Institute has embarked on a study aimed at reducing the discharge of microplastics into wastewater, leading to harmful health effects on animals and humans.

Jan Beringer, head of research and development for Hohenstein’s Department of Function and Care, speaking at Texworld USA last week, discussed the project he is leading to evaluate the effect of laundering on the quantity and types of microplastics present in wastewater streams.

Hohenstein is applying proprietary state-of-the-art technology and testing methods to thoroughly analyze microplastics in industrial laundry effluents. In addition to defining the real situation, the test will also explore the washing process for opportunities to minimize microplastics emissions.

“The basis for the research project is that wastewater from washing machines, particularly industrial machines but also home laundry washing, is polluting beaches and a harming animal life,” Beringer said.

The United Nations has warned the public about microplastics, which Beringer said has generally been defined as particles under 5 millimeters in length that are showing up in the world’s waterways. They have the potential to poison the food chain, as these tiny beads of plastic have shown up in the stomachs of marine life, as well as the supply of drinking water.

[Read more about microplastics: UN Lends Weight to Ocean Pollution Problem to Advance the Circular Economy]

A separate study commissioned by the data journalism outlet Orb found that 94 percent of all water samples tested were contaminated with plastic. Synthetic apparel plays its part in this pollution, as it breaks down in the laundry cycle, moves on to wastewater treatment plants, and then enters rivers, lakes and oceans, according to researchers at the University of California at Santa Barbara.

The European Union also recently said starting this year, it will establish a project to minimize marine litter in Asia and the Mediterranean to promote more sustainable production and waste management efforts to curb microplastics pollution.

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Beringer said in researching the life cycle of the microplastics, that Hohenstein found 96 percent of the materials were caught by filters, “which is good, but the filters are also blocked,” and that can interrupt operations such as bacteria filtration.

In the Hohenstein study, the focus is on polyester fibers, with the research broken down into three levels: establishing proper analytics, determining the origin and cause of the fiber discharge, and developing methods for reducing discharge. The analytics have been established, the origin and cause is being worked on now and the end goal is to finds solutions to the problem.

“We are currently investigating the impact factors of the origin and cause and this will be finished by the middle of the year and the reduction and methods step will be finished by the end of the year, and we plan to release the final results in 2019,” Beringer added.

A key area being investigating are the factors that influence the laundry result–temperature, chemistry, time and mechanics. Material such as surface treatment and polymers, as well as fabric construction.

In the reduction stage, he said the project will be dealing with areas such as preventative measures, and fabric development and treatment and their impact on microplastics discharge.