Saturday 20 July 2019

Microbeads are under scrutiny from Loreto girls

Fingal students impress at BT Young Scientist exhibition

Microbeads have been identified as one of the greatest threats to marine life in modern times so it is no surprise that they became the focus of a Young Scientist project by two students from Loreto Secondary School in Balbriggan.

Cleo Gallen and Zainab Shahid took on the controversial subject and set about finding a more environmentally friendly alternative to conventional microbeads.

These microbeads are found mostly in cosmetic products and according to Cleo, they have set off 'a torrent of uproar in recent years due to research that has found their potentially detrimental effects on the environment'.

The trouble is, microbeads as they are currently made, never go away and are often mistaken for food by marine life which not only threatens that marine life, but could result in them entering the human food chain.

Cleo said: 'The ethos of our project was to investigate biodegradable alternatives which would degrade in waste water filtration systems before even entering the ocean.'

The pair tried a number of different biodegradable substances and as Zainab explained, these biodegradable microbeads had to perform all the same functions as the conventional ones, the crucial difference being that these ones would dissolve in water treatment filtration systems, before entering the ocean.

Zainab said the pair rigorously tested various combinations of materials and settles on a starch based microbead which seemed to meet most of the criteria needed to be substitute current microbeads, but where crucially, completely and quickly biodegradable.

The only stumbling block the pair hit in their research was finding that the new beads were not as effective in a face wash which is one of the most common uses of microbeads. However, the students are confident that with some tweaking, they can address that issue as the project is developed into the future.

Zainab said they were looking to find beads that were strong enough to provide a reasonable shelf-life and ones that could be stored at room temperature without degrading significantly during their commercial lifetime.

They believe the starch based beads have met all those tests. Meanwhile, the cosmetic industry has started to catch up with this problem and more environmentally friendly micorbeads are beginning to reach the market. However, none of thise use this starch-based solution that the Loreto students have hit on so the project may have real commercial possibilities in the future although it is a desire to protect the environment that motivates these young scientists, not profit.

Fingal Independent