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How do we detect microplastics at home?

Sri Nikitha
Sri Nikitha Oct 22, 2020
Don't mistake these as butterflies in oblivion. These are microplastics.

Since the time, I have read about plastic ingestion and its unknown consequences on human life. I can't stop thinking about the presence of plastics in my food and water, that I consume every single day. There are also reports that we might be breathing microplastics from the air. And unfortunately, we do not have extensive research on the ill-effects of microplastics on nature and human health.

I think the detection of microplastics is the first step to solve the problem of microplastic pollution. There are many complicated methods of detection using stereoscopes and Fourier transform infrared techniques. But, how do we identify microplastics at home? Can we build a low-cost DIY kit to serve the purpose? Can we innovate an affordable stereoscope from household e-waste?

I have put my crude thoughts here. Please share your thoughts and inputs.


Creative contributions

Agglomeration and staining to detect microplastics at home.

Jamila Oct 22, 2020
An at-home device could be developed that uses agglomeration and dyes to detect microplastics in our food/water.

As Juran has already mentioned, agglomeration is a handy tool, as it can make the microplastics larger and thus more visible for detection. Perhaps, we could combine this with dyes. A previous study has shown that a fluorescent dye called Nile Red can detect and quantify microplastics of different sizes. Nile Red works by attaching onto the plastic, making the microplastics fluorescent under blue light. Out of several dyes such as Eosin, oil red, rose Bengal, Nile Red. Nile Red was able to adhere to the microplastics the best, and it had the best fluorescent activity.

A device should be developed that takes a sample of your food/water and then uses agglomeration and a dye to detect microplastics in your samples.

[1]Schuhen, Katrin, Michael Toni Sturm, and Adrian Frank Herbort. "Technological Approaches for the Reduction of Microplastic Pollution in Seawater Desalination Plants and for Sea Salt Extraction." Plastics in the Environment. IntechOpen, 2018.

[2]Maes, Thomas, et al. "A rapid-screening approach to detect and quantify microplastics based on fluorescent tagging with Nile Red." Scientific Reports 7.1 (2017): 1-10.

Agglomeration and removal of microplastics from water and food

Juran Oct 22, 2020
The amount of microplastic intake through water is huge. Recent papers show that microplastic fibers were found in 80% or more samples of tap water, averaging 1.9 (Europe) and 4.8 (US) microplastic fibers/500 ml. If we drink tap water or use the bottled one, the intake ranges between 4000 and 90 000 plastic particles annually . Another problem is bioaccumulation in rivers, seas, and oceans, resulting in human consumption of high doses of microplastic particles.

How to reduce the intake and amount of microplastics in the environment?

  • use tap water + use a ceramic or another tap filter
  • use metal/glass bottles
  • increase the population of algae that help to increase the sorption of microplastics in oceans
  • membrane filtration of wastewater
  • agglomeration and removal of microplastics in wastewater by Fe- and Al-based salts and other coagulants
  • microorganismal degradation and sterilization of drinking water


To detect the microplastic particles, my approach would be first to make them larger. That could be made by the formation of agglomerates (Figure 1) or using maybe more practical solutions like magnetic fluid, recently developed by NASA and repurposed by an 18 y.o. Using the specific magnetite water and a magnet, he managed to remove 88% of microplastic from the sample of wastewater . Once the microplastic particles become less micro, they would be easier to remove from drinking water.

To remove it from the food, I think the best work could be done by using reusable "cooking collectors", working on the same principle as the water agglomeration methods. Could be used like a piece of material thrown in the pot while preparing and cooking. It should be heat resistant, inert, and safe.

PS Unfortunately, I didn´t find a possible solution to detect it, just to remove it.

Figure 1. Idea of localization and agglomeration of microplastic. Taken from Schuhen et al (2018) according to CC BY 3.0 licence.






Sri Nikitha
Sri Nikitha7 months ago
Wow, the magnetic fluid idea is amazing. I wonder if there is any size limitation to the liquid. And, recently, I came across an organization in Germany which uses silica gel to agglomerate microplastics. Thus, they filter and remove plastics. You can check out the link here: https://wasserdreinull.de/projekte

Juran7 months ago
Sri Nikitha I would also like to see it being applied on a larger scale :)
I checked the link, but they are shy on information. What I managed to learn is that they, among few other techniques, use fluorescent microscopy to detect microplastics. If you could agglomerate microplastics to larger particles, than DIY fluorescent visualization could work.

Humanity-wide avoidance and replacement of plastic

Darko Savic
Darko Savic Oct 22, 2020
Given the micro/nano size of the particles, chances of us tackling it in our home environments are thin. We have been cleaning dust from our homes since forever. We are still living with it. Microplastic particles are even smaller than dust.

Humanity-wide avoidance of plastic is necessary. Plastic can easily be replaced in some use case scenarios. The rest will need a bit more effort.

  1. We should phase out plastic where ever possible. Starting with simpler scenarios first - we don't have to use it for clothing, cutlery, furniture, and a ton of other things.
  2. We should make a list of scenarios where plastic is seemingly unavoidable and then focus on figuring out viable substitutes. Every substitute brings the potential to form startup-companies around it

A portable optical sensor for the detection of transparent and translucent microplastics

Subash Chapagain
Subash Chapagain Oct 22, 2020

Since microplastics by definition are very small in size, their detection is difficult. An optical sensor with the capability of detecting microplastics in the water has been proposed by a research group. The system is deemed to measure the laser light reflection as well as light transmission from the microplastic particles present in the water. The specular laser reflection signal and the interference pattern of the transmitted light are recorded with a photodiode and a charge-coupled device (CCD) camera. These two modes of detection make it possible for the sensor system to screen the type and size among the two major types of microplastics- transparent polyethylene terephthalate (PET) and translucent. Low-density polyethylene (LDPE).

In the case of reflection from transparent smooth microplastic, or reflection of diffuse light from translucent microplastic, the sensor system exploits detection of the intensity of the specular component of the reflected light, whereas, in the transmission mode, it detects the pattern formation of light interference from the microplastics. Thus, combining these two methods of optical detection, one can distinguish the microplastic type and have an idea on the size. It is proposed that this new prototype may find applications in field measurements of microplastics such as samples from the sea, lake, and river waters as well as filtration water samples in wastewater plants. This device at present is designed for onshore, large-scale measurements, but it could be modified and optimized accordingly in future to use in the home or other customized settings/locations .

[1]Asamoah, B. O., Kanyathare, B., Roussey, M., & Peiponen, K.-E. (2019). A prototype of a portable optical sensor for the detection of transparent and translucent microplastics in freshwater. Chemosphere, 231, 161–167. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.chemosphere.2019.05.114

The will and the way

Darko Savic
Darko Savic Oct 22, 2020
The solution to every problem where people are involved requires 2 main components - the will and the way.

  1. How can we get people to appreciate the urgency of the problem?
  2. How can the problem actually be solved? What can people invest their effort in?
Sri Nikitha
Sri Nikitha7 months ago
Yes absolutely! Primarily, the pollution problem should become our own problem rather than a neighborhood issue. People should own it, identify and solve it in different ways. Once people feel and connect to the problem, there is a moment and governments will work on the problem.

For example, in Delhi, the air pollution issue became people's problem with the Air Quality Index and all other measuring systems. People realized and they started dialogues with civil societies, NGOs, and the Government. Within a few years, there were policy interventions and strict laws to restrict air pollution.

So, personalization and localization of the problem are key to bring "the will and the way."

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