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Heat and Bleach: A Cost-Efficient Method for Extracting Microplastics from Return Activated Sludge

Sujathan, Surya, Kniggendorf, Ann-Kathrin, Kumar, Arun, Roth, Bernhard, Rosenwinkel, Karl-Heinz, Nogueira, Regina
Archives of environmental contamination and toxicology 2017 v.73 no.4 pp. 641-648
Raman imaging, bleaching, bleaching agents, cost effectiveness, glass, heat, hydrogen peroxide, oxidants, particle size, plastics, risk, sludge, sodium, sodium nitrate, thiosulfates
The extraction of plastic microparticles, so-called microplastics, from sludge is a challenging task due to the complex, highly organic material often interspersed with other benign microparticles. The current procedures for microplastic extraction from sludge are time consuming and require expensive reagents for density separation as well as large volumes of oxidizing agents for organic removal, often resulting in tiny sample sizes and thus a disproportional risk of sample bias. In this work, we present an improved extraction method tested on return activated sludge (RAS). The treatment of 100 ml of RAS requires only 6% hydrogen peroxide (H₂O₂) for bleaching at 70 °C, followed by density separation with sodium nitrate/sodium thiosulfate (SNT) solution, and is completed within 24 h. Extracted particles of all sizes were chemically analyzed with confocal Raman microscopy. An extraction efficiency of 78 ± 8% for plastic particle sizes 20 µm and up was confirmed in a recovery experiment. However, glass shards with a diameter of less than 20 µm remained in the sample despite the density of glass exceeding the density of the separating SNT solution by 1.1 g/cm³. This indicates that density separation may be unreliable for particle sizes in the lower micrometer range.