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New "Seabin" devices help to curb microplastics in the Cape Fear River

Keep New Hanover Beautiful, an environmental non-profit organization, works to reduce litter and improve recycling efforts in Wilmington. They recently installed three Seabins in the Cape Fear River.

Three Seabin V5 devices have been installed in the Cape Fear River. The units act as a floating garbage bin, skimming the surface of the water. The Seabins filter out floating debris, macro-plastics, microplastics – and even micro-fibers. The main concern: microplastics and microfibers that have become too small for humans to see.

Jess Hufham, the president of CFCC’s Plastic Ocean Project club, discussed the issue as she emptied Seabin #3: “So microplastics are one of the biggest problems with the plastic pollution because some people will lean towards buying things that say that they're biodegradable, which is great biodegradable is definitely a good thing to have. But everything has its own life. So how long till it's gone?”

When single-use items like plastic water bottles, diapers, cans, styrofoam, and cigarette filters are disposed of improperly, they often end up not in the landfill, but in the waterways. These items can take up to 450 years to degrade.

“Plastics, they don't ever truly go away, they break down to where we can't see them with the naked eye. And they break down to where it's even really hard to see them via microscope. And so plankton are the base of the food chain when we're talking about marine ecosystems," Hufham. "And so if they're ingesting plastics, then that means that those plastics are actually just bioaccumulating.”

A recent study showed that polyethylene terephthalate, a plastic commonly used in water bottles, and polystyrene, found in food packaging, have been found in human blood. About 77% of the study’s participants had the presence of these plastics in their bodies.

Devices like the Seabin help to reduce the plastic pollution in the water. Limiting the consumption of single-use products, and making sure items are disposed of properly can also help keep plastics out of the water.

Megan McDeavitt is a filmmaker from Boone, NC. She is currently pursuing her MFA in Filmmaking at UNCW, and her AAS in Marine Technology at CFCC. She's worked in local journalism throughout North Carolina before returning to school, where she focuses on strengthening her creative storytelling and looking at environmental issues within the community.