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Revolutionary Moss Filter

A winner of the annual Biodesign Challenge Summit, the moss filter draws inspiration from one of the most unique ecosystems in the world, and captures microplastics before you drink them.

Páramo landscape in the Andes Mountains
Páramo | Wikimedia Commons

High up in the Andes mountains, 12,000 feet above sea level, lies one of the world’s most unique ecosystems. Known as Páramo, the landscape is responsible for 70 percent of Colombia’s fresh water; in part, thanks to moss species that trap moisture from the fog, rain, and melting glaciers; store it in the soil; then release it gradually to the lowlands.

When the water passes through the moss, it’s so clean it’s considered safe to drink for about 40 million people across Columbia, Peru, Bolivia, and Ecuador. But the moss can filter a lot more than dirt and pollutants: It can also filter microplastics.

Earlier this year, a group of design students at the University of the Andes in Bogota visited Páramo as part of a master’s course on biodesign. Drawing inspiration from the filtering properties of the moss, they designed a moss filter that can capture about 80 grams of microplastics from tap water - or the equivalent of 16 credit cards.

Unique moss filtering system
Credit: Universidad de Los Andes

Titled MustGo, the project just won the annual Biodesign Challenge Summit. Still in its early stages, the concept joins the ranks of many filters designed specially to filter microplastics - but this is the first using natural materials.

At the end of its lifecycle, the filter won’t be composted or recycled because of the microplastics now embedded in its membrane. So the students envision a network of drop-off locations where the moss filters can be collected and turned into a new kind of bioplastic material, while the stainless steel helix can be reused for the next filter. “One of the most important things for us is to end the lifecycle of the product,” says Maria Paula Osorio, a student at the University of the Andes who helped design the product. “We need the right allies to turn this waste into a product material.”

It may be years until the product sees the light of day, but MustGo is proof that, should more be needed, the key to many of our most pressing challenges already exists in nature - all we have to do is harness it.


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