Whether it’s deep fried, pickled or chopped up in gumbo, okra is something of a staple in Southern cooking.
But those green seed pods may soon have another promising application: removing microplastics from wastewater. Researchers at Tarleton State University are studying how compounds from okra and other plants like fenugreek and aloe to see if they can help filter microscopic bits of plastic out of water systems.
Leading the research is Rajani Srinivasan, endowed Munson research professor of chemistry at Tarelton State University. She told the Texas Standard that normally, chemicals called flocculants are added to wastewater. Those compounds bind to microplastics and clump together, sinking to the bottom and leaving clean water on top. The problem is that traditional flocculants can be toxic – like the plastics they’re removing. Enter plant-based polysaccharides, which are able to effectively bind to the plastics but are non-toxic.
Listen to the full interview in the audio player above.