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Designing with innovative solutions addressing the micro and nanoplastic crisis

Microplastics and Nanoplastics, what exactly is the difference?
Microplastics and nanoplastics are small plastic particles that can be found in various products and environments. Microplastics are defined as plastic fragments with a diameter less than 5 mm, while nanoplastics have a diameter less than 0.001 mm.

Microplastics and nanoplastics can be classified into two types: primary and secondary. Primary microplastics and nanoplastics are intentionally manufactured and added to products, such as cosmetics, personal care products, paints and textiles. Secondary microplastics and nanoplastics, on the other hand, are formed from the degradation of larger plastic items, such as bottles, bags, tires, fishing nets… and more. Microplastics and nanoplastics are of concern because they can enter natural ecosystems through various pathways, such as wastewater, runoff, wind and littering. They can also accumulate in the food chain and are thus currently under several investigations concerning their impact on the health of wildlife and humans. (To know more).

Ok, then… What about microfibers?
Microfibers, on the other hand, can be commonly defined as thin strands of synthetic fibers that can be shed from fabrics such as polyester, nylon or acrylic during washing or wearing. Microfibers are a type of microplastic that can have different shapes, such as cylinders, ribbons or stars-like structures. Microfibers can also generate from natural fabrics such as cotton, hemp and others, and the problem with them is that, regardless of their nature, they can accumulate and carry pollutants, such as dyes, metals or organic contaminants that can affect the health of living organisms, especially in aquatic environment.

Estimates on the amount of microplastics that have been released into the environment vary a lot, as it is clearly difficult to recreate and identify the main streams of diffusion and the multitude of potential sources.

What is clear right now is the fact that new strategies in product and material design are needed in order to address this issue, together with correct communication and education.

How can design help in the development of the products of tomorrow?

There are several possible approaches addressing microplastic pollution, such as reducing overall  plastic production and consumption, improving waste management and recycling systems, banning or regulating the use of microplastic-containing products, developing biodegradable and bio-compatible alternative materials, and implementing technologies for microplastic removal or degradation such as filtering or capturing systems that will facilitate collection.

We report here some practical examples of materials manufactured in this context, developed in the perspective of addressing the issue. Further details can be found in our Material Library, a service dedicated to Businesses, Universities and Research centres, owned by MaterialConnexion and provided here in Milan by Materially. Contact us for further information.

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Here we see a  biodegradable alternative to plastic microbeads produced using cellulose, the most abundant bio-material on Earth, and the structural element of plants and trees. These components are usually used in the cosmetic industry as frictioning elements to exfoliate or cleanse in rinse-off personal care products. This material results in a more sustainable, practical alternative at industrial scale as a bulking agent, for prolonging the shelf-life of the products, or for the controlled release of active ingredients.


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Above is a new, patented, softshell and air layer combination technology that creates a unique 3D micro-climate single-layer woven fabric. It is manufactured with 96% recycled polyester (rPET) and 4% spandex. This single-layer lightweight fabric is produced energy-efficiently with no lamination and bonding process. Its tight weaving construction provides durability and water resistance, and the 3D hollow layer captures and maintains body temperature without fleece, thus reducing the release of ocean-polluting microfibers during washing.


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Here we see an ocean-safe straw that is 100% microplastic-free, biodegradable, 0% soggy, and made from sustainably sourced raw materials. The material is primarily made from post-industrial recycled wood streams and plant-based binders and is 100% industrially compostable without leaving microplastics behind. A creative solution for both our environment and our entertainment.

If you are interested in learning more about these and other topics related to Microplastics and Nanoplastics stay updated on the next editions of our courses, on face-to-face events, or subscribe to our newsletter.