Forward-looking: A group of design students in London developed a method of capturing microplastic debris from car tires, one of the leading forms of plastic pollution. The solution also allows the user to recycle the collected debris, potentially minimizing annual tire production altogether.

Depending on where you live, the largest contributor to microplastic pollution might surprise you. What comes to mind for most is degrading water bottles, fishing nets, or plastic bags. But one of the leading contributors in the world is actually worn tires.

Microplastics are tiny plastic particles that kick up into the air, coat the environment surrounding roads, enter soil, and rush out to the open ocean. It has been known to stunt fertility, growth and survival in marine life and can be very tricky, if not impossible, to remove from the water once it has entered.

An international team of four design students at Imperial College London recently created a practical method for capturing tire tread wear before it reaches the road, earning them the runner-up prize at the International James Dyson Awards.

The method comes in the form of a capsule that sits behind the tire, capturing tiny black rubber particles as they peel off the tire, and can be removed and disposed of properly. The particles can apparently be recycled as new tires, shoe insoles, and even pen ink.

The world reportedly discarded 3 billion car tires in 2019, according to Emission Analytics, and the pollution due to tire wear could be up to 1000 times more impactful to human health and the environment than petrol emissions.

This creative solution serves to inform the public about the issue and hopefully provide the first step to nipping it in the treads.