Tiny pieces of plastic in our waste streams break down further during treatment processes, causing potentially catastrophic consequences for human health and our aquatic systems, according to a study.
Researchers from the University of Surrey in the UK and Deakins University in Australia investigated nano and microplastics in water and wastewater treatment processes. There has been substantial study of microplastics pollution, but their interaction with water and wastewater treatment processes had not been fully understood until now, researchers said.
About 300 million tonnes of plastic are produced globally each year and up to 13 million tonnes of that is released into rivers and oceans, contributing to nearly 250 million tonnes of plastic by 2025, according to the study published in the Journal of Water Research. Since plastic materials are not generally degradable through weathering or ageing, this accumulation of plastic pollution in the aquatic environment creates a major concern. The research highlights the current difficulty in detecting the presence of nano and microplastics in treatment systems.
In order to ensure water quality meets the required safety standards and to reduce threats to our ecosystems, new detection strategies are needed with the aim of limiting the number of nano and microplastics in water and wastewater treatment systems. “The presence of nano and microplastics in water has become a major environmental challenge. Due to their small size, nano and microplastics can easily be ingested by living organisms and travel along water and wastewater treatment processes,” said Judy Lee from the University of Surrey in the UK.
“In large quantities they impact the performance of water treatment processes by clogging up filtration units and increasing wear and tear on materials used in the design of water treatment units,” Lee said.