Microplastics — tiny particles of plastic found in the air, water, soil, and even in the bloodstreams of animals and people around the world — are recognized as a potential pollution threat. Microplastics are not new to our world and our oceans, but as climate change and other environmental concerns become more pressing, they have undoubtedly become a focus as of late.
A lot of microplastic pollution comes from the breakdown of larger plastic products, like bottles and packaging, but manufacturers also intentionally add their own. An estimated 50,000 tons of microplastics are intentionally added to a variety of products such as cosmetics, paint, and agricultural products in the European Union alone.
In an effort to combat the problem, the U.S. has banned the use of microbeads in cosmetics and the European Union has proposed to outlaw the intentionally added microplastics completely by 2025.
Researchers have discovered that low-grade silk, considered safe and non-toxic in the food and medical fields, can inexpensively replace purposely used microplastics, providing a biodegradable, non-toxic solution to pollution. It is also relatively easy to obtain as it can be extracted from the cocoons of silkworms or recovered from used silk fabric (or inferior-quality silk, unusable for textile manufacturing). Join Dr. Muchun Liu, a Postdoctoral Research Associate at MIT, for this insightful and timely session about these exciting, significant advances in replacing microplastics to tackle growing environmental and health concerns.