Between source and sea: The role of wastewater treatment in reducing marine microplastics

Shirra Freeman, Andy M. Booth, Isam Sabbah, Rachel Tiller, Jan Dierking, Katja Klun, Ana Rotter, Eric Ben-David, Jamileh Javidpour, Dror L. Angel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Wastewater treatment plants (WWTPs) are a focal point for the removal of microplastic (MP) particles before they are discharged into aquatic environments. WWTPs are capable of removing substantial quantities of larger MP particles but are inefficient in removing particles with any one dimension of less than 100 μm, with influents and effluents tending to have similar quantities of these smaller particles. As a single WWTP may release >100 billion MP particles annually, collectively WWTPs are significant contributors to the problem of MP pollution of global surface waters. Currently, there are no policies or regulations requiring the removal of MPs during wastewater treatment, but as concern about MP pollution grows, the potential for wastewater technologies to capture particles before they reach surface waters has begun to attract attention. There are promising technologies in various stages of development that may improve the removal of MP particles from wastewater. Better incentivization could speed up the research, development and adoption of innovative practices. This paper describes the current state of knowledge regarding MPs, wastewater and relevant policies that could influence the development and deployment of new technologies within WWTPs. We review existing technologies for capturing very small MP particles and examine new developments that may have the potential to overcome the shortcomings of existing methods. The types of collaborations needed to encourage and incentivize innovation within the wastewater sector are also discussed, specifically strong partnerships among scientific and engineering researchers, industry stakeholders, and policy decision makers.

Original languageEnglish
Article number110642
JournalJournal of Environmental Management
StatePublished - 15 Jul 2020

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This article was supported by the GoJelly (A Gelatinous Solution to Microplastic Pollution) project which receives funding from the European Union's Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under Grant agreement No. 774499 .

Funding Information:
GoJelly-A gelatinous solution to microplastic pollution is a research consortium of 16 institutions funded by the European Union's Horizon 2020 program that has as one major objective of exploring ways of reducing the flux of MP waste to the sea by reducing the quantities of microplastic particles in treated wastewater effluent.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020 The Authors


  • Innovation
  • Jellyfish mucus
  • Microplastic
  • Particle removal
  • Policy
  • Wastewater

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Waste Management and Disposal
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law
  • Environmental Engineering


Dive into the research topics of 'Between source and sea: The role of wastewater treatment in reducing marine microplastics'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this