Magnetically-driven sponge: a solution to oil spill disaster?


Despite preventive measures, accidents do still happen involving oil spills in the oceans.  That’s why scientists continue to find ways to better contain such spillage. And they found that an ordinary polyurethane foam can potentially remove oil contaminants from the water.

Magnetically-driven sponge
Magnetically-driven sponge

In a recent study, researchers have found a potential in an ordinary, unmodified polyurethane (PU) foam.  They observed that since this kind of foam is inherently hydrophobic and oleophobic, it can repel both water and oil from the surface of the foam.

Researchers at the American Chemical Society revealed that the typical sponge used in many household cleaning purposes can efficiently suck up unwanted oil from the water, but at the same time eliminate the other liquid.

By infusing a combination of electrostatic polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE) particle and colloidal iron oxide nanoparticles (NP) into it, the now magnetic sponge can separate oil from water at significantly quick speed, reaching saturation in less than a minute.  Both the PTFE and NP can transform the properties of the sponge into a highly hydrophobic and oleophilic material. Additionally, the nanoparticles can also make the sponge magnetic because of the magnetic properties of the iron oxides.

This new development will, indeed, be a welcome relief to our contaminated oceans that have been suffocating from oil spill disasters, among many other contaminants.

However, one of the project’s researchers, Dr.  Athanassia Athanassiou, admitted that they still need further studies regarding the foam’s viability on a large-scale level to clean up oil spills.

Sources revealed that even if the sponges are cheap,  the cost of chemical treatment process is quite prohibitive.  But on the brighter side, Dr. Athanassiou assures that, “the modification of the commercial PU foams is achieved with simple steps; this makes the scale-up feasible, simple, and economically viable”.

Even as we await the availability of the magnetic-driven sponge or similar development, let us remain vigilant about protecting our oceans, in particular, and the environment, in general.

Waste management: it’s everybody’s concern


Waste management should be a concerted effort of each and every member of a community, and not a responsibility of the local government alone.  For everyone is responsible in messing up with Nature.  In Iligan City,  it seems extremely difficult to enforce a waste management program because of the divisive political views of both those in power and the constituents.

Sendong IliganIligan City in the southern part of the Philippines was one of the hardest hit by typhoon “Sendong” (international name, Washi) that triggered a flash flood and landslide in the area, and claimed over a thousand lives on December 17, 2011.  The tragedy was blamed heavily on illegal logging, improper waste disposal, and other natural disaster-causing elements. Because of this, the newly-elected local government officials are trying to implement a waste management program to prevent the tragedy from happening again.  But sadly, many are skeptical, and even adamant, about the proposed project initiated by the city’s newly-elected mayor.

When politics gets the upper hand

The new mayor, retired Col. Celso Regencia, pointed out in his electoral campaign earlier that garbage has always been one of the major problems in Iligan City, and (as usual) promised that he would do something about it if elected.  And true to his promise, he issued an Executive Order regarding the collection and proper disposal of garbage, which took effect on September 1, 2013.

But the problem is: his Councilors and even the vice mayor are adamant about implementing the Executive Order, citing too many reasons and issues – from lack of funds to communication problem to the grassroots level. Other related issues also propped up, most salient of which is funding that has been misused by the previous administration.  Even as government officials squabble over the Executive Order issue, constituents are also divided on who to follow.  And this is why up until the present, Iligan City is yet to see a properly implemented waste management program.

I recall, in the early morning following the flood, I saw for myself the tons of garbage strewn all over most parts of the city – plastic, bottles, all sorts of wrappers and packaging materials, enormous logs, appliances, etc… – not to mention the lifeless bodies of both animals and humans – you can find it anywhere!  It was indeed a horror to witness the effects of people’s indifference to the environment.  Being an environmentalist, it created a profound impact on me. I could only utter, ‘I wish you all learn from this’ at the time.

The tragedy also created a sort of realization among government authorities and the people of Iligan, in general.  They became fierce about stopping illegal logging and bringing to book those responsible for it, rebuilding their homes and lives, and a bit of concern about waste disposal.  But unfortunately, though, the impetus I saw right after the storm has gradually died down.

And, the Executive Order?  I don’t know anymore what has become of it!  I think it’s now in the back burner again as the government officials continue to squabble over matters that might threaten their political standing among their constituents. What about the supposedly massive information drive about garbage disposal?

I’ve witnessed how a significant number of homeowners are either not keen about segregation as they see it as an additional task, or simply they are not aware of the essence of the proper disposal of garbage.  I was appalled by a resident’s comment when I asked her opinion about garbage segregation.  Without batting an eyelash she said, “Ah, I have no time for such thing, I would rather find other ways to dispose of my garbage than doing that time-consuming segregation.”

Obviously, the city government has still a very long way to make this Executive Order successful. First and foremost, politics has to be set aside.  Second, it needs the active participation of all its residents.  And, to get them involved in this important endeavor, the people must thoroughly understand the essence of waste management.

This leads me, then, to write this blog, hoping to help in the dissemination of the importance of proper disposal of common household trash.  And I am not addressing this only to the people of Iligan City but to all citizens of the world.

Why should we dispose of our trash properly?

Plastic, styrofoam, used electronic devices, and other waste materials strewn anywhere or thrust into rivers, streams, and other waterways can hamper the flow of water into its final destination.  The accumulated water will then find other course and overflow into the streets and other areas where it is not supposed to get into.  Besides, our trash serves as breeding ground for germs and insects, eventually causing the spread of several diseases.

Many of our household wastes are poisonous, and when discarded improperly, it may cause contamination and even death of people and other living organisms.

How to dispose of your household waste?

Segregation 2Segregate.  Separate your household waste according to biodegradable (nabubulok in Tagalog, malata in Cebuano or Bisaya); non-biodegradable (hindi nabubulok, or dili malata), and toxic waste, like used batteries. Assign a particular container, with color codes if necessary, for each category. Some localities assign Green for biodegradable materials, Yellow for Non-biodegradable, and Black for toxic wastes.  

Make a compost pit.  If you live in the rural area, or if your surrounding allows for it, make a compost pit where you can dump your biodegradable wastes.  By doing so, you will be generating fertilizer out of your unwanted items. Besides, composting our food scraps, paper, wood, waste, and yard trimmings, can tremendously cut down on the amount of garbage that would otherwise sit on landfills, serving as fodder for disease-carrying insects and rodents.

Recycle, Reuse and Reduce.  We can greatly help our environment if we make it a habit to recycle, reuse, and reduce household trash.  These are the key elements in which we can considerably minimize our production of waste.  Read Going Green Starts at Home for some helpful tips in reducing your impact on the environment.

Install a garburator.  Another way of eliminating food waste at home is by installing a garburator or garbage disposal unit under your sink. Here is how it works.

The average cost of a 1/3 horsepower-motor residential garbage disposal unit is usually around Php 2,200 to Php 5,000, depending on where you purchase it.  Nevertheless, it is important to shop around first for the appropriate unit that best suits your requirements. Beware, though, of the cheapest garburator; it might not perform the way you want it to be.

Cooperate.  Proper waste management is not a sole responsibility of the government or your barangay officials. Each person, young and old, who belongs to a certain community is responsible for maintaining cleanliness in his own area.  Let not politics, which seems to have eaten much of the fabric of development, get in the way to a cleaner Iligan City. What the community needs now is  political will to move forward!

Again, if only we strongly WILL to resolve the garbage issue and its consequential problems, we CAN actually materialize a cleaner environment and a healthier lifestyle – and we would be surprised to know that there are several ways to accomplish it! But, if we remain unwilling and passive, we will forever cling to nasty excuses!

Admittedly though, waste management is a legally, technically, and commercially complex system, not to mention initially expensive.  The local authorities, has to set specific dump sites for all the wastes, define a systematic way of collecting garbage, and spend for recycling facilities, to name a few.  But these should not stop us from doing our part as citizens of the earth and in our own locality.

As the saying goes, “Improvement begins with I, not Y”.  So, let’s get moving!  Besides, we don’t want to have a repeat of Sendong, Pablo, Ondoy, or Yolanda, do we?

First Option: Reduce Waste at Home

Even as we consciously make an effort to dispose of our garbage properly, we should also make it our primary concern to minimize our waste.  This way, we not only reduce our carbon footprints, but we also cut down on our expenses and bills.  Here are some helpful ideas that you might want to consider.

  • When buying new products, try to choose the better quality or more durable items, instead of opting for the cheaply-made or disposable ones.  The seemingly ‘high price’ you pay for the item will actually give you your money’s worth as you get to use the product for a longer period.
  • See if your old or broken items can still be repaired or restored before deciding to replace them.
  • Purchase products that can be reused for a long time.  For example, it is more practical to buy china or enamel crockery than paper plates and bowls.  It is also way better to pack your children’s school lunches in reusable containers with cover.
  • Buy products packed in recyclable containers, such as beverages in returnable bottles or packaging.
  • Buy your consumable goods in bulk to avoid unnecessary or excess packaging.
  • If you have some unwanted items in your home, you may give it to someone who might need it, or you may sell, or donate it.
  • If you need to purchase paints, pesticides, or other chemical-based materials, make sure to get just enough amount you need; otherwise, share the leftover with your neighbor or other people. This way, you are able to reduce toxic waste at home.

These are but a handful of many ways to reduce household wastes.  For sure, you also have your own ideas to share.  And, as we make this a daily habit, there’s no doubt that we will still discover more options to better manage our household trash.

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