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Microplastics in a municipal wastewater treatment plant: Fate, dynamic distribution, removal efficiencies, and control strategies

Lv, Xuemin, Dong, Qian, Zuo, Zhiqiang, Liu, Yanchen, Huang, Xia, Wu, Wei-Min
Journal of cleaner production 2019 v.225 pp. 579-586
aquatic environment, case studies, foams, laundry, membrane bioreactors, microbeads, microfiltration, microplastics, morphs, municipal wastewater, oxidation, plastic bags, pollution, polyethylene terephthalates, polypropylenes, polystyrenes, sludge, wastewater treatment, China
Microplastic pollution has become emerging environmental concern around world. The wastewater treatment plants (WWTPs) are attributed to a major pathway for microplastics (MPs) to enter into aquatic environment. To understand the fate and control strategies of MPs in WWTPs, we investigated MPs at a full-scale WWTP, Eastern China, with two parallel wastewater treatment systems, i.e. oxidation ditch (OD) and membrane bioreactor (MBR) for case study. The influent MPs consisted of polyethylene terephthalate (PET, 47%), polystyrene (PS, 20%), polyethylene (PE, 18%) and polypropylene (PP, 15%). MP morphotypes dominated in fragments (65%) and fibers (21%), which mainly were PET, with limited films (12%) and foams (2%). Typical plastic microbeads were not observed. The dominant size of MPs was >500 μm (40%) and 62.5–125 μm (29%). MP concentrations increased across the treatment systems depends on facility of treatment process. Influent MPs were removed by 99.5% in MBR system versus 97% in OD system on the basis of plastic mass while 82.1% versus 53.6% on MP number. The removed MPs accumulated in sludge phase. MBR system has much higher MP removal efficiency than OD system, likely due to membrane filtration. The results suggest that the source control of MPs by eliminating MP fibers from laundry facilities, banning use of plastic microbeads, Styrofoam products and plastic bags and properly selecting WWTP treatment unit could significantly reduce the mass and number of MPs from WWTPs.