From trash to treasure: A sustainable approach to oil spill clean-up

(1) St. Bridget School, Cheshire, Connecticut; Cheshire Academy, Cheshire, Connecticut, (2) Cheshire Academy, Cheshire, Connecticut
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Oil spill clean-up is a colossal and pressing problem in our world today. About 1.5 million gallons of oil are spilled each year and millions of dollars are spent to clean-up the spilled oil. These spills also harm marine animals and pollute drinking water. Due to these detrimental environmental effects, cleaning up oil spill is imperative. Finding an effective method to combat these oil spills will greatly reduce the amount of damage and the cost of oil spill clean-up. We examined the ability of two plant-based biodegradable sorbents, water spangle leaves (Salvinia minima) and milkweed fibers (Asclepias syriaca) to retain oil in fresh and salt water conditions. We hypothesized that milkweed fibers would be more effective than water spangle leaves for oil spill clean-up due to its hydrophobic, oleophilic nature and its tubular structure. In addition, we assessed milkweed fibers for their recovery and reusability by recovering the absorbed oil using a vacuum filter unit. Our results indicate that milkweed fibers are a more effective sorbent than water spangle leaves and could be reused multiple times. Interestingly, we also found that milkweed fibers were able to absorb oil up to 40 times of its weight. The results from this study will help find an eco-friendly and cost-effective solution for oil spill clean-up using natural, biodegradable sorbents.

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