A team of scientists at Sichuan University in Southwest China created a small fish robot that can “eat” microplastics out of the water.
The fish-shaped, plastic-hoovering bots are soft to the touch and are only about 1.3 centimeters long, Reuters reports. The material was inspired by nacre, also known as mother-of-pearl. Nacre is found inside of some shells and can be flexible and durable, so the researchers wanted to make a similar material for the fish’s body, the Guardian reports. Their creation is propelled by light and can absorb free-floating plastic particles.
But what happens if the fishbot gets swallowed up by a real fish? According to the researchers, the little bot is made out of a biocompatible polyurethane that wouldn’t harm wildlife. Details of the research are published in the journal Nano Letters.
This experimental solution is on the quirkier side and doesn’t sound very practical on a mass scale, but we’re badly in need of ways to reduce the plastic clogging our waters (and seemingly everything else). Scientists even found plastic in people’s blood for the first time this year. The full impact of all this plastic on humans and wildlife isn’t totally clear, but a 2020 report from the Endocrine Society and the International Pollutants Elimination Network described over 140 chemicals commonly found in plastics as a major global health threat.
An even more effective solution: Corporations need to stop producing and using so much plastic, hardly any of which gets recycled. Even so-called bioplastics are majorly problematic. These little fishbots are cute and creative, but they won’t solve this crisis.