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RESTCo: How to Clean Up Microplastic Pollution on a Beach or Shoreline

This page provides some images to demonstrate the beach microplastic clean-up procedure described in our De-plasticizing the Ocean document. In the real world, you would use a bigger box (probably not with glass sides), shovels and a bigger skimmer.

Microplastics are the most dangerous plastic for seabirds and other small animals inhabiting the shoreline, as they are a size which those creatures can eat, either because they are mistaken for food, or are accidentally ingested with food due to proximity.

In the demo, we start by putting some microplastic into the aquarium, just so you know it's there.

Microplastic placed in bottom of aquarium for demo
Microplastic in bottom of aquarium for demo (with a dead blade of grass)

Then we take some aquarium gravel, including some red stones, so the microplastic can become effectively invisible.

Aquarium gravel in package
Multi-coloured aquarium gravel in package.

Where's the plastic?
Aquarium gravel added to cover the microplastic pollution.

Can you see the microplastic now? It's in there, buried in the pile - just like microplastic pieces are embedded in sand or gravel on a beach or shoreline. As birds and animals peck and forage through the stones and grains for food, they will unearth the microplastics, and possibly eat it.

Next we add water. In the real world, you might put water in your box first, then add the sand or gravel, especially after the first round of cleaning.

Water added
Microplastic, gravel and water. The water was added with enough force to move some of the gravel.

Next, we stir up the gravel so the microplastic can work free. You could use a rake or shovel for this.

Microplastic floating on the water
After agitation, the microplastic has been freed from the gravel, and is now floating on the water.

With the microplastic freed from the gravel, it can now be skimmed off the top of the water.
We recommend using a skimmer made from Eco-Tec ADsorb-it filter fabric. It allows water to pass through, but collects particles (like microplastics) and adsorbs any hydrocarbons you may encounter, as well.

Captured plastic on filter fabric
Microplastic picked up on skimmer (filter fabric).

So if you want to clean up the plastic from a beach, by all means pick up the stuff you can see to make the venue less unsightly. But while you're at it, how about cleaning up some of the microplastic pollution - the stuff that is harming wildlife today.

If you are looking for the filter fabric in Canada, contact ROSCUE (Rapid Oil Spill Clean Up Equipment).

Types of Plastic
The Science of Plastic Pollution
Media Items on Plastic Pollution
RESTCo's Plastic Pollution Solution Path
Some Interesting Approaches
Things That Don't Work
Things That Do Work
De-plasticizing the Ocean (2017 RESTCo 3-pager)
Removing microplastic from shoreline/beach (demo)
RESTCo Plastic Pollution Solution
Capturing Micro- and Nano-plastics from the Waste Stream
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