The thumbnail version:

  • Microplastic (such as the glitter we apply to garments) is causing a huge ecological problem.
  • Inventors and scientists are working on counter-measures.
  • The ultimate solution lies in not using pollutants.

The full version:

The University of Surrey in the UK has named Eleanor Mackintosh as the winner of their public competition, the National Robotics Contest. Ms. Mackintosh has invented a glow-in-the-dark, water-filtering robotic fish named Gilbert.

Gilbert swims using fins powered by electric motors. Its head floods and the gills on either side filter the water through a fine mesh to take out microplastics as small as two millimeters. Gilbert was designed using only affordable off-the-shelf components and can be 3D printed in ABS plastic.

At this prototype stage Gilbert still needs some modifications. For instance, it cannot yet distinguish between microplastic particles and organic matter that should not be filtered out of the water. Also, it will take a huge number of Gilberts to make any difference to the microplastic problem, but that’s not the point. The point is that Gilbert is helping to focus attention on a serious ecological problem.

Now, if Gilbert could just focus the attention of certain elements in our industry on a microplastic problem they have chosen to ignore so far, namely, glitter, it would be a step in the right direction by a heavily-polluting industry.

Cleaning up the damage we’ve caused with materials such as glitter is obviously necessary, but the ultimate solution is to stop polluting. Stop using glitter.