Microplastics are sesame seed-sized particles that are ubiquitous in our oceans, food supply, and drinking water. Their presence in the global water supply has faced scrutiny from activists and politicians alike. And empirical data has linked them to adverse health effects, such as respiratory ailments and DNA damage, in humans. Though actions have been taken by governments in the United States and abroad to reduce their presence in water, there is no regulatory consensus on how to adequately remove microplastics. This is alarming, given that people, on average, ingest 5 grams of plastic per week.
You may be wondering: Is there a way I can control microplastic exposure, so as to minimize the risk of detrimental health effects? Thankfully, the answer is a resounding yes.
Technology has advanced to better filter out microplastics from water. With these improvements comes individual freedom in consuming water that meets standards, from both a health and taste perspective. And research efforts will continue to expand the existing body of knowledge surrounding microplastics. Efficacious removal methods for removing microplastics include reverse osmosis, ultrafiltration, nanofiltration, and carbon filters. Here’s a deeper look into the four ways to remove microplastics from water.
You may have heard of this process in your high school science class. In recent years, it’s become popular in the world of water treatment, as well. Reverse osmosis filtration utilizes osmotic pressure. As water moves across a semipermeable membrane, impurities that linger in the water are separated from the purity of the water itself. A major advantage of this method is that it has made clean drinking water accessible to a wider range of the population. However, reverse osmosis removes essential minerals, like calcium and magnesium. This can be harmful to those with nutrient deficiencies, or to those who live in hotter climates.
An additional potent method for removing microplastics is ultrafiltration. This system relies on small pore sizes (about 0.01 micrometers) to separate toxic materials like plastics. Particles larger than this, which also include illness-causing microorganisms, thus get extracted from the water. Ultrafiltration has been highly regarded for this ability, and has even been used as an alternative to chlorination in some waste water plants. Furthermore, its energy demands are low, which makes it an environmentally-friendly option. However, ultrafiltration is not as accessible as other filtration systems and can be very expensive. And while it is effective in removing viruses and bacteria, it is not as effective in getting rid of chemicals.
Pore sizes in nanofiltration are even smaller, at 0.001 micrometers, which means that this method can remove even more miniscule pieces of plastic. Nanofiltration is frequently used to soften hard water, and also has low energy requirements. This filtration method is favored because it retains a lot of the minerals that are necessary for the human body to function optimally. Unfortunately, it remains relatively unknown beyond the scientific community, and is also not the most economical option for the general population. And like ultrafiltration, its potency in filtering out chemicals is not as sound.
Finally, carbon filters have emerged as an effective and environmentally-conscious method to remove microplastics from water. Certain ultrafiltration and nanofiltration systems actually rely on them. They come in analytic and catalytic forms, and rely on the process of adsorption. During adsorption, microplastic particles are separated from water by being taken into the surface of the activated carbon in the filter. Activated carbon filters are frequently made from organic materials, such as coal or coconut shells. An upside is that they have become increasingly available to the wider public. However, if your water supply contains a high concentration of contaminants, carbon filters will become worn out faster. Thus, they require keen monitoring.
Microplastics are pervasive in our modern day water supply. Their detrimental effects on the environment, as well as our bodies, call for stricter regulatory measures from our governing bodies. However, the fact remains that microplastics will persist so long as our consumption of plastic does. And likely even longer, given that these substances do not decompose easily.
Fortunately, there are actions we can take as individuals. This includes utilizing technology that can remove microplastics from water. By doing so, we can stave off potential health risks. Choosing the right filter can take time and careful consideration. And it certainly isn’t a process that should be rushed. When deciding which filter is optimal for you and your household, consider your budget, your water needs, and the types of particles that the filter removes. Furthermore, microplastic research is still in its infancy, and many filters on the market haven’t been tested for microplastic removal. You’ll want to make sure that the filter you choose removes at least 95% of the substance from your water supply.
Our filters at Aquagear are carefully engineered to take out microplastics from tap water. They remove more than 99% of microplastics, and have been independently tested to SM and EPA protocols by an ISO 17025 lab. These filters rely on activated coconut carbon, which is a potent filter medium in removing microplastics.
How do microplastics end up in the water supply?
Common culprits of microplastic pollution include synthetic fibers from clothing, microbeads in cosmetics, paints, and utensils (forks, takeout containers, etc.).11
What actions, if any, have governments taken to remove microplastics from water?
Beginning in 2017, the Microbead Free Waters Act phased out microbeads from items like toothpaste and soap in the U.S.12 The European Union has also proposed a ban on microplastics in items like detergents and cosmetics.13
Are microplastics also present in bottled water?
Yes. Water bottles often use a particle called bisphenol A, also known as BPA. This particle has been linked to health problems such as diabetes, heart disease, and high blood pressure.14
What other particles do Aquagear’s filter’s remove?
Over 99% of other contaminants such as asbestos and lead, are removed by our filters at Aquagear. This comprehensive report provides additional information.
- What are microplastics? Retrieved from oceanservice.noaa.gov (February 26, 2021)
- Microplastics and human health: FSU researchers find exposure to microplastics may alter cellular function. Retrieved from news.fsu.edu (April 19, 2021)
- A. Dick Vethaak & Juliette Legler. Microplastics and human health. Science. 2021 Feb; 371(6530), 672-674.
- Reverse Osmosis. Retrieved from fda.gov (August 26, 2014)
- Ultrafiltration, Nanofiltration, and Reverse Osmosis. Retrieved from safewater.org.
- Teresa Poeiro, Emma Piacentini, Rosalinda Mazzei. Membrane Processes for Microplastic Removal. Molecules. 2019 November; 24(22), 4148.
- L.D. Naidu, S. Saravanan, M. Chidambaram, Mukesh Goel, Ashutosh Das, and J. Sarat Chandra Babu. Nanofiltration in Transforming Surface Water into Healthy Water: Comparison with Reverse Osmosis. Journal of Chemistry. 2015 October.
- Adsorption Basics: Part 1. Retrieved from aiche.org (July 2017)
- Water Treatment Using Carbon Filters: GAC Filter Information. Retrieved from health.state.mn.us
- Choosing Home Water Filters & Other Water Treatment Systems. Retrieved from cdc.org (August 4, 2020)
- The Plastic Inside Us. Retrieved from orbmedia.org.
- US to ban soaps and other products containing microbeads. Retrieved from theguardian.com (December 8, 2015)
- Scientific Committees: EU-wide restriction best way to reduce microplastic pollution. Retrieved from echa.europa.edu (September 2020)
- What is BPA, and what are the concerns about BPA? Retrieved from mayoclinic.org (May 14, 2021)