A Monmouth-based inventor and entrepreneur is hoping to solve the problem of plastic on beaches with the launch of a new business, Sand Separation Systems.

Dr Richard Coulton is the man behind the successful Siltbuster business in Monmouth which has transformed the way polluting water is dealt with on construction, mine and industrial sites.

The new business is currently prototype testing a method for separating microplastic particles from beach sand.

Microplastics is one of the world’s hottest topics at the moment, and firmly on the sustainability agenda.

In the past Dr Coulton has pioneered an array of world-beating environmental systems which have transformed the way polluted waters are cleaned.

Current beach cleaning technology is based on screening, which only removes beach debris such as seaweed and rubbish.

The screens are not capable of removing plastic particles which are smaller than 10mm in size. As a result, these remain on the beach and eventually break down into the micro plastic particles. These then blight beaches and their ecosystems or are blown out to sea, adding to the problem in the world’s oceans.

Mr Coulton said: “Separation of these finer plastic particles requires a different approach.

"It demands a technology that’s capable of identifying the physical difference between tiny plastic and sand particles. The solution I’m working on not only does this but then exploits that difference - actually using it to separate the plastic from the sand.”

The separation technique being pioneering is based on density rather than particle size.

The density of an individual plastic particle varies between one to 1.6 tonnes per cubic metre, whereas sand is around 2.7, roughly two to three times heavier.

The new technology exploits this difference by using a combination of seawater and the sand to create a dense media upon which the plastic particles float. The particles are floated off the top of the machine, along with the majority of the sea water, and are separated via an ultra-fine screen. Cleaned sand is discharge from the bottom of the machine and returned to the beach.

Early signs are that this technique is highly effective. It typically recovers particles as small as 0.06mm, compared to the 10mm limit which current beach cleaning technology is capable of.

It has been prototype tested on a mixture of sand and rubber, with initial tests demonstrating more than 99 per cent of the rubber is removed.

As a next step Richard Coulton is now running tests with plastics and sand. If these trials prove successful, he will look to develop a full working unit, with a view to going into commercial production within the next year to 18 months.

Mr Coulton said: “ All the signs suggest we’re onto something. We will certainly need some funding to take this to the next stage, but if it works then the pay-off for the planet - and the area in terms of engineering jobs and exports - will be huge. It will be yet another example of a pioneering UK manufacturing business tackling a major global environmental problem.”