How Okra Can Help Clean Up Our Drinking Water

Okra, which originates from Africa, is a vegetable that is widely used in Caribbean, Creole, Cajun, and Indian cuisines. However, Scientists believe okra polysaccharides could be useful in filtering microplastics from water. 

Despite being a rich source of vitamins and fibre, many people avoid eating okra because of the strange ‘slime’ that naturally comes from the vegetable when we cut it.

However, scientists believe okra slime could be used to filter microplastics (tiny plastic particles that measure less than 5mm in diameter) out of water

How Are Microplastics Usually Filtered:

Water treatment plants commonly add chemicals known as flocculants to the water to remove plastic microparticles.. These form clumps to which the particles adhere; when the clumps are removed from the water, the microplastics are taken with them.

However, flocculants like polyacrylamide can be harmful under certain conditions. Dr. Rajani Srinivasan and researchers at Tarleton State University in Texas looked for a safer alternative by extracting compounds from several food-grade plants.

Following some research, it was discovered that polysaccharides could be derived from okra, as well as plants such as fenugreek, cactus, aloe vera, tamarind, and psyllium.

So What Exactly Does All Of This Mean?

From their research, Scientists  discovered that polysaccharides derived from okra were the most effective. Microplastics could be removed from ocean water when combined with fenugreek extract, and okra combined with tamarind extract was most successful for freshwater samples.

Overall, the plant-based polysaccharides performed as well as or better than the traditional flocculant polyacrylamide. Furthermore, the plant-based flocculants can be used in existing water treatment processes.

Dr. Srinivasan and her colleagues will continue to optimise the removal of different microplastic forms from a variety of water sources by adjusting the ratios and combinations. They also intend to scale up the removal process in non-laboratory studies.

We can’t wait to see her team commercialise the method and remove microplastics from water on a large scale. If you would like to read more about this topic click here.