Plastics News - Show Daily - October 20, 2022 - 13

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Plastics News, October 20, 2022 * 13
and we fi ll them with stones from
the river. The students shake the
plastic bottles and take the water
sample, look at it under the
microscope and they can see the
microplastics. It's an interactive
way to demonstrate: " Hey, that's
a crime when you place your
plastic bottle in nature somewhere
because with climate
change we have high rainfalls
sometimes and then everything
is washed into the rivers and
then the mill starts to work,
crushing down the plastic products
into microplastics. "
Q: What made some sections of
the Danube unswimmable for you?
Fath: It was low water at the
beginning and dams of course.
We'd carry a paddle boat around
the dam and then I'd jump in
again. And then I skipped Belgrade
after a biologist raised
concerns. Some 1.7 million people
deliver their waste water and
excrements with E.coli into that
river. I didn't want to risk infection.
I wanted to reach the Black
Sea so I skipped that. Then, the
story changed about why I didn't
swim through Belgrade. Is it dangerous?
Can we eat the fi sh from
there? How long can you be in
the water? Can we use it for leisure?
It was good choice not to
swim there. It brought attention
to the NGOs fi ghting for sewage
treatment plants to take care of
their water.
Q: What kind of plastic did you
encounter mostly and partly while
swimming the Danube River?
Fath: I saw everything, but
mostly bottles and styrene packaging
- a lot of packaging. In
the water you don't see so much
fl oating because most of the
plastic is heavier than water and
it goes down. Every place where
I left the water I found packaging
material in all 10 countries.
Q: How about the passive
sampler attached to the wetsuit
to imitate fi sh skin? Did
you wear it for all three river
swims? Has it provided any additional
insights?
Fath: This is a membrane you
can buy that is often placed on
bridges and at tributaries to extract
what's on the surface to investigate
discharges and determine
the guilty party. I took it on
all swims and changed it to analyze
developments. For example,
at the beginning of the Rhine we
found 30 substances and at the
end we found 128 substances.
At the Danube we had a different
protocol. We worked with researchers
from the University of
Vienna and they wanted to look at
additives to tires. Tire friction has
the highest impact of microplastics
released into our nature. The
rubber itself is not the problem
but the additives to tires like polyaromatic
rings or softeners. The
wind carries them to the water.
We have an education model
Andreas Fath, a chemistry
professor at Furtwangen
University, swam more
than 1,000 miles of the
Danube River to highlight
plastic pollution.
How many hours are you in the
water? How do you keep going
physically and mentally?
Fath: I'm in the water eight to
10 hours a day. In April, when the
water was 11 degrees centigrade,
that was pretty cold. I thought
the snow melt of the alps would
help for a better current of the
river
but
because
of
climate
change we did the wrong calculation.
To keep our daily schedule,
I had to swim eight to 10 hours
to reach the next workshop, city
or parking place for the boat. We
had no fl exibility in our time.
I was a swimmer in a profeswhere
there's a wheel on plate.
People can turn the handle of
the wheel and on the other side
there's a fi lter and you can see
the particles on the fi lter and
look at them under a microscope.
We make all this visible. We not
only tell people about it; we make
it visible. Knowledge stays when
combined with emotions so we
do the interactive models.
Q: In addition to the volume
of plastic in waterways, you're
sounding the alarm about the
surfaces of microplastics possibly
being coated with pesticides,
pharmaceuticals, antibiotics and
hormones. And that has raised
other questions for you and your
students, which has turned into
a new project. What else are
your students working on?
Fath: I gave two of my students
a job. If microplastic is capable
to adsorb all these pollutants,
why don't we use microplastics
as a fi lter material? A startup
company called Polymer Active
is using plastic litter to make microplastic
and microplastic powder
as a fi lter material to clean
water. This has the same effect
as active carbon used to clean
water. This company is called
Polymer Active - a very smart
name because the polymer can
still be active. The polymer can
still be something positive if you
use it in the right way.
This has three advantages.
First of all, it give plastic litter a
new lifetime, which saves our surroundings.
Then, it cleans water,
which saves water. And then, at
end of the day, you don't have
to combust it like you have to do
with active carbon so then you
reduce carbon dioxide formation.
This is a timely issue. At our
sewage treatment plant here in
Biberach (Kinzigtal), we're working
on the installation of a fourth
treatment step at the municipal
wastewater treatment plant. The
fourth step is based on active carbon,
which adsorbs trace compounds
released into our rivers
but is a high-cost technology. You
have to prepare active carbon,
which costs high energy from out
of biomass and at the end of the
day you have to combust it.
If you take plastic, which we have
enough for free, because people
throw it everywhere, this is a good
concept to increase recycling.
I always end my talks with
this positive view because other
facts I tell from river expeditions
are very negative and people are
very depressed at the end of the
talks. So I give this view into the
future of what we can do. It's one
point of how we can tell people
that plastic litter is not useless.
We can do something with it.
Q: What are your days like
during one of these river swims?
sional way in my fi rst life, and
I kept in shape. The swimming
at the beginning is hard, but the
challenge helps you get better. It's
a training effect. After two three
weeks of swimming every day for
eight hours, your body adapts
to the job. I came out after eight
weeks in the best shape of my life.
I know how to swim long distances.
It's easier than walking
because the water carries you.
It doesn't hurt your bones and
knees everything.
I come by this by two passions:
swimming and water protection
and chemistry. Its sports meets
science, and now we add education.
Scientists will read papers
on these topics but plastic pollution
of our water streams and
Earth are societal problems so
you have to reach society.
Q: What action at the least do
you hope the public and industry
are moved to?
Fath: In the words of Jack
Johnson, who wrote a song
about three Rs, I'd say reduce,
reuse and recycle. Plastic isn't
a bad material if it stays in the
loop of use.
Look at hospitals and cars. Plastic
has its benefi ts for our health
and safety. But with packaging,
when it is released into water
streams, the boomerang comes
back and our health is in danger.
I hope people think about
what they're doing, that they reduce
plastic where they can or
reuse it as often as possible and
for the industry to produce products
that can be recycled easily.
If a product has three or different
plastic types, nobody is separating
them because it costs money.
Nobody is doing it because we
are economically driven.
The message to the industry
is make products that can be
recycled or that are biodegradable.
That's a part of the industry
starting with low volume, but
I hope it rises in the next years
and leads to production of biodegradable
plastic products.
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Plastics News - Show Daily - October 20, 2022

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