Turning the Tide on Microplastic Pollution: Green Analytical Chemistry and Sustainability Solutions at Pittcon 2024

In a future epoch, evidence of the Anthropocene will be visible in mountains and valleys, mainly as remnants of plastic mismanagement. Since the Great Acceleration, post-1950s, the global production of plastic has surpassed 10 billion tons, with approximately 11 million tons of plastic waste now finding its way into oceans each year. Around 80% of plastic floating in the ocean will settle on coastlines within a month, where it will gradually degrade into microplastics under UV exposure and physical abrasion.1,2

Image Credit: petrmalinak/Shutterstock.com

From the Brisbane River and the Ganges to the lakes of Qinghai and Geneva, microplastics are becoming ubiquitous in global waters and sediments. Not only can plastics persist in the environment for centuries, but microplastics pose a threat to water quality and freshwater ecosystems, as they can leech toxic chemicals and serve as vectors for other pollutants. This problem should alarm us all, especially as plastic pollution is expected to increase with the rising production of plastic.3,4,5,6,7,8,9

Ironically, in the process of analyzing microplastics, more environmentally damaging chemicals can be produced. In recent years, analytical chemists have started turning to their own experimental practices in search of ways to maximize safety and minimize waste and energy consumption. Borrowing from the Green Chemistry philosophy, analytical chemists have developed green analytical chemistry (GAC). The goal of GAC is to minimize the environmental impact of analytical processes, as well as potential side effects to operators, while still maintaining the accuracy and reliability of the analytical results.10

Celebrating its 75th conference and exposition, Pittcon 2024 offers a fascinating series of events presented by a diverse group of scientists and innovators from around the world. This year, Pittcon will emphasize the merits of GAC in relation to microplastics, showcasing progress in sustainability within the broader field of analytical chemistry. Delivered through its Environment & Energy track, Pittcon aims to provide personal and professional solutions. For additional information, visit Pittcon.org.

Advancing Sustainable Science: Investigating the Principles and Implementation of Green Analytical Chemistry

Green analytical chemistry is a burgeoning concept that aims to integrate environmentally sustainable practices into analytical methodologies, underscoring the judicious use of hazardous substances and waste generation, and the promotion of energy efficiency in analytical processes. Its slow entry into the field of analytical chemistry over the last two decades is, in part, a result of scale, given that analytical laboratories produce relatively less waste compared to industrial settings. Nevertheless, the cumulative impact of waste generated in analytical labs is not negligible and warrants recognition as a potential environmental hazard.10

Twelve principles have been proposed to guide the design and execution of chemical processes and can be written to form the acronym SIGNIFICANCE:10

  • Select direct analytical techniques
  • Integrate analytical processes and operations
  • Generate minimal waste and treat it properly
  • Never waste energy
  • Implement automation and miniaturization of methods
  • Favor reagents from renewable resources
  • Increase safety for operators
  • Carry out in situ measurements
  • Avoid derivatization
  • Note that sample and size should be minimal
  • Choose multi-analytic or multi-parameter methods
  • Eliminate or replace toxic reagents

Applied to the experimental microplastics methodologies, GAC reminds researchers that bulk sampling may be unnecessary. Smaller sample volumes are often sufficient when separating larger microplastics from a matrix. Deliberate use of chemometrics can also help reduce the amount of sample required, though different reagents possess different toxicity profiles. A GAC-oriented approach leans toward reagents with lower toxicity profiles when available, such as NaCl, and stresses their proper disposal.10,11

Assessing the environmental impact of methods can be challenging. Several metrics have been developed for this purpose, such as AMVI, which quantifies the overall solvent consumption in an HPLC method, enabling chemists to make informed decisions for reducing the environmental footprint of an analytical method. Additionally, AGREE, an Analytical GREEnness calculator, provides a score for analytical procedures based on adherence to the 12 principles.12,13

Testing the Waters: Professor Barcelo’s Symposium on Microplastics in Aquatics Environments and GAC Protocols

On February 27th, Pittcon is delighted to host a symposium by Professor Damià Barceló entitled: Microplastics in the Aquatic Environment: Green Analytical Protocols, Vectors of Pharmaceuticals and Risk to Biota. Serving as Professor at the Institute of Environmental Assessment and Water Research (IDAEA) and Director of the Catalan Institute for Water Research (ICRA) in Spain, Prof. Barceló brings a wealth of expertise in water quality assessment and the management of emerging contaminants in wastewater treatment plants.

This symposium will cover different aspects of microplastic and macroplastic litter pollution in aquatic environments, with a specific focus on GAC protocols for the analysis of microplastics in water. Having helped establish the largest database on riverine floating macro-litter, Prof. Barceló is uniquely placed to offer insights on this subject and does so through case studies, including those from Europe, Australia, and India.14,15

Prof. Barceló advocates for a collective effort involving the scientific community, plastic producers, politicians, NGOs, and the general public to address the excessive use of plastic and find sustainable solutions. In addition to a comprehensive overview of the challenges posed by microplastics, he will discuss the potential strategies for mitigating their impact. Do not miss your chance to attend—add this event to your schedule at Pittcon 2024.

Strategies for Sustainability: Dr Hardik Bhatt’s Short Course on GAC in Pharmaceutical Industries

On February 24th, Pittcon is also excited to host a short course by Dr. Hardik Bhatt entitled Green Analytical Chemistry Approach in Pharmaceutical Industries to Develop Sustainable Practices. Serving as Professor and Head of Department at the Institute of Pharmacy, Nirma University, Dr. Bhatt has authored over 50 publications and helped develop green normal- and reverse-phase HPLC.16,17

This one-day course emphasizes the crucial role of GAC in mitigating the adverse effects of organic solvents on human health and the environment within the analytical industry. Focusing on key goals such as method development, validation, simplicity, and cost-effectiveness, Dr. Bhatt advocates for the use of green solvents to achieve these objectives. Attendees of this session will deepen their comprehension of GAC approaches, particularly in the development of chromatographic methods, and explore novel techniques for the assay of APIs in pharmaceutical industries. Secure your spot at this event—add this event to your schedule at Pittcon 2024.

Pittcon 2024: Showcasing Green Analytical Chemistry Solutions

Humanity’s plastic footprint will surely endure as a stratified band of rock millennia from now. Together, we have the power to narrow this band by adopting sustainable environmental practices, including GAC. A concerted effort by the scientific community, industry, policymakers, NGOs, and the public will not only allow us to turn the tide of plastic pollution but, in so doing, leave a positive legacy for the future of the planet. Assembling expert-led symposia and short courses, Pittcon serves as a platform for exchanging knowledge, fostering collaboration, and spearheading the change needed to navigate our way toward a more sustainable and responsible future. Join us this year at Pittcon 2024.

References and Further Reading

  1. Tursi, A., et al. (2022). Microplastics in aquatic systems, a comprehensive review: origination, accumulation, impact, and removal technologies. Royal Society of Chemistry. doi.org/10.1039/D2RA04713F
  2. The Ocean Cleanup. Ocean Plastic Pollution Explained. Available at: https://theoceancleanup.com/ocean-plastic/ (Accessed on 20 December 2023).
  3. D’Avignon, G., et al. (2021). Microplastics in lakes and rivers: an issue of emerging significance to limnology. Environmental Reviews. doi.org/10.1139/er-2021-0048
  4. He, B., et al. (2020). Abundance, distribution patterns, and identification of microplastics in Brisbane River sediments, Australia. Science of The Total Environment. doi.org/10.1016/j.scitotenv.2019.134467
  5. Napper, I.E., et al. (2021). The abundance and characteristics of microplastics in surface water in the transboundary Ganges River. Environmental Pollution. doi.org/10.1016/j.envpol.2020.116348
  6. Xiong, X., et al. (2018). Sources and distribution of microplastics in China’s largest inland lake – Qinghai Lake. Environmental Pollution. doi.org/10.1016/j.envpol.2017.12.081
  7. Boucher, J., et al. (2019). (Micro) plastic fluxes and stocks in Lake Geneva basin. TrAC Trends in Analytical Chemistry. doi.org/10.1016/j.trac.2018.11.037
  8. Kunz, A,. et al. (2023). Microplastics in rivers along an urban-rural gradient in an urban agglomeration: Correlation with land use, potential sources and pathways. Environmental Pollution. doi.org/10.1016/j.envpol.2023.121096
  9. Leterme, S.C., et al. (2023). Microplastics in urban freshwater streams in Adelaide, Australia: A source of plastic pollution in the Gulf St Vincent. Science of The Total Environment. doi.org/10.1016/j.scitotenv.2022.158672
  10. Picó, Y., et al. (2022). Micro(Nano)plastic analysis: a green and sustainable perspective. Journal of Hazardous Materials Advances. doi.org/10.1016/j.hazadv.2022.100058
  11. Picó, Y., et al. (2021). Analysis of microplastics and nanoplastics: How green are the methodologies used?. Current Opinion in Green and Sustainable Chemistry. doi.org/10.1016/j.cogsc.2021.100503
  12. Hartman, R., et al. (2011). Analytical Method Volume Intensity (AMVI): A green chemistry metric for HPLC methodology in the pharmaceutical industry. Green Chemistry. doi.org/10.1039/C0GC00524J
  13. Pena-Pereira, F., et al. (2020). AGREE—Analytical GREEnness Metric Approach and Software. Analytical Chemistry. doi.org/10.1021/acs.analchem.0c01887
  14. González-Fernández, D., et al. (2021). Floating macrolitter leaked from Europe into the ocean. Nature Sustainability. doi.org/10.1038/s41893-021-00722-6
  15. Barceló, D., et al. (2024). Sample Handling and Trace Analysis of Pollutants: Innovations to Determine Organic Contaminants. Elsevier Science, 2024
  16. Bang, P.P., et al. (2023). Development of Green RP- and Green NP-HPTLC Methods for Estimation of Lenvatinib and Comparative Evaluation by AGREE. ACS Sustainable Chemistry & Engineering. doi.org/10.1021/acssuschemeng.2c05767
  17. Nirma University. [Online] Faculty: Hardik Bhatt. Available at: https://pharmacy.nirmauni.ac.in/author/hardikbhatt/ (Accessed on 19 December 2023).

This information has been sourced, reviewed and adapted from materials provided by Pittcon.

For more information on this source, please visit Pittcon.


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