Researchers from the Deakin’s Institute for Frontier Materials and the University of Surrey revealed that plastic wastes occurring in waste streams undergo further break down into minute particles; raising environmental concerns about the possible catastrophic impact of the tiny plastic particles on aquatic systems and human health.
Studies conducted by Dr Ludovic Dumée at Deakin’s Institute for Frontier Materials, and Dr Judy Lee and Marie Enfrin, both from the University of Surrey’s Department of Chemical and Process Engineering, looked into the occurrence of microplastics in water.
They found out that when undergoing waste treatment processes, plastic wastes break down into minute particles, in nano and micro sizes. The study also observed that the presence of microplastics in water impaired the performance of natural treatment plants, which as a result disparages the quality of water.
The team’s findings were published in the Journal of Water Research last September 09, 2019.
Detection of Nano and Microsized Plastics Poses an Environmental Challenge
The high point of the University of Surrey’s study is the difficulty in spotting and discerning the presence of microplastics in treatment systems.
Project leader, Dr Lee, who is also a Senior Lecturer at the University of Surrey, remarked that
“The presence and related detection of nano and microplastics in water have become major environmental challenges.” “Nano and microplastics can easily be ingested by living organisms, as well as travel along water and wastewater treatment processes”. “When occurring in large quantities, they clog up filtration units of water treatment processes, which impacts performance, as well as increase the wear and tear on elements used in water treatment units.”
Dr. Lee’s remarks were based on research that shows an approximation of about 300 million tons of plastic materials are annually produced worldwide. Up to 13 million tons of which, flow into rivers and oceans. The research team estimates that by 2025, approximately 250 million tons of plastic will have been released into oceans and rivers.
Plastic materials as we all know, are generally not degradable by way of ageing or weathering, and therefore likely to accumulate and pollute aquatic environments.
In order to address major concerns on how nano and microplastics can diminish water quality to one that does not meet safety standards, as well as the threats they pose to the Earth’s ecosystems, it is important that improved detection strategies are in place. That way, the occurrence of nano and microplastics in wastewater treatment systems and in bodies of water will be limited.