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Queensland grant to stop road microplastics puts CQUni brains into drains

Published:09 August 2021

Dr Angela Capper sorts collected litter for research

Dr Angela Capper sorting litter collected from waterways.

CQUniversity marine researchers will share in $1 million of Queensland Government grants to clean up beaches, rivers and creeks, with an innovative project to trap and monitor microplastics in Central Queensland drains.

The Drain Buddies project, led by Dr Angela Capper at CQUniversity’s Coastal Marine Ecosystems Research Centre (CMERC), will modify and install microplastic traps across Rockhampton and Livingstone shires, with monitoring to determine where the littering is occurring.

Dr Capper said the project will target microplastics created by road use, and road-based activities such as new road paint markings and installation artificial grass on road-side verges.

“It’s not something that drivers would notice, but road use creates plastic waste, especially microplastics that are smaller than 5mm. These can occur through new road paint markings and road paint damage, tyre dust, and also from the waste rubber (tyre crumb) incorporated into asphalts and soft-fall coverings in playgrounds,” she explained.

“We actually know very little about the shedding capabilities of road paint, artificial grass and tyre crumb soft-fall coverings from the installation proces to wear and tear. The other important part of the project is knowing when and for how long these activities are taking place and work with local councils and the road-sector industry so we can pre-empt fall-out.”

“Monitoring stormwater drains next to these roads will help us understand what microplastics are created, and then design interventions to prevent them going into waterways.”

The Drain Buddies device have already successfully been used across Queensland to intercept larger plastic waste, and Dr Capper has conducted trials with a modified version to trap microplastics.

The Minister for the Environment and the Great Barrier Reef Meaghan Scanlon announced the funding to 28 community-driven projects last month, as part of the ongoing health response and rollout of Queensland’s COVID-19 economic recovery plan.

CQUniversity received $49,928 to deliver the Drain Buddies project across the next 18 months.

“The grants will give community groups, universities and organisations the funding power they need to clean up litter hotspots, rollout the latest waste-catching technology and educate the community,” Minister Scanlon said.

“Together with Queensland’s ban on a number of single-use plastics coming into effect in September, this funding will make sure the sunshine state is playing its role in preventing waste from ending up in the ocean – which sadly sees eight million tonnes of plastics leak into it globally each year.”

CQUniversity research previously saw Drain Buddies capture 20,575 pieces of litter in Gladstone stormwater system over seven months.

The new project will also include a community program to educate government about reducing plastic waste from roads.