The Hazards Of Microplastics In Industrial Wastewater And The Treatment Options

While our understanding of the environmental consequences of rising plastic and microplastic pollution has increased over time, the effects on human well-being have received comparatively less investigation due to the challenging and intrusive nature of conducting such research. Although microplastics are defined as any plastic fragments under 5mm in size, the most dangerous are those that are small enough to be accidentally consumed or inhaled as our bodies cannot break them down meaning they can become lodged. Some of the smallest microplastic particles can measure around 2.53 ± 0.85μm (as discovered on a beach in Japan).

Last week (9th August 2023), the American Chemical Society (ACS) shared the findings of a new research paper by a team of scientists from Beijing Anzhen Hospital in China who had found microplastics in human hearts for the first time as well as microplastics in patients’ blood. The researchers analysed the heart tissues of a sample of 15 patients and discovered 9 types of plastic including common types of recyclable plastic such as PET (polyethylene terephthalate); PMMA – poly(methyl methacrylate) – which is a common alternative to glass due to its shatter-resistant properties; and PU (polyurethane) which is used in household products and fashion items. 

The Journey of Microplastics into Industrial Wastewater Streams

Despite many attempts and past research, microplastic removal remains one of the main challenges of industrial wastewater treatment as engineers have struggled to find a removal solution that is 100% effective in removing microplastics 100% of the time. This is due to the plastics’ composition and miniature size as they do not react with other elements or dissolve. 

Microplastics can therefore infiltrate industrial wastewater through various sources:

The Manufacturing Process:

Potentially one of the more obvious is industrial manufacturing processes – when plastics are cut, moulded, or extruded, tiny specs of plastic can break off and get released into the air. 

The Finishing Process:

When products are washed, dyed, or painted, loose particles can also get swept away, creating further plastic pollution across multiple industrial wastewater streams. 

Final Product Degradation / Wear & Tear:

Over time, plastic products can degrade, chip, and scratch thus shedding even more microplastics. This can happen across different industrial processes as plastics are used in machinery, packaging, and transportation. 

Inadequate Waste Management:

As more and more plastics enter wastewater streams and cannot be fully removed, they can contribute to the release of microplastics beyond the manufacturing facilities. Alongside this, improper disposal of plastics can mean they end up in landfill – making leachate and landfill wastewaters increasingly abundant in microplastics. 

Addressing the Challenges Posed by Microplastics in Industrial Wastewater

So, what can we do to tackle these challenges and the rapid spread of microplastics? 

While initiatives such as reducing plastic food packaging, banning plastic straws, and mandating the use of recyclable plastics can help put us on the right path towards reducing the amount of microplastics we come in contact with; the problem of existing (and new) pollution still remains. 

However, improvements in technology over the years have helped sophisticate existing processes and remove smaller and smaller fragments. Thanks to the introduction of AI in wastewater treatment, companies are now able to perform more accurate sampling as well as track trends and changes in wastewater inputs as well as clean water outputs, thus assisting engineers in developing more effective mitigation strategies in the future. 

At LAT Water, our wastewater treatment solutions have been shown to recover over 85% clean water as a minimum from plastics washing wastewater – helping decrease the amount of harmful plastics in the environment. Depending on the type of wastewater your company produces and the complexity of the stream, our specially-engineered LAT Unit can additionally provide considerable operational savings (some of our clients see a 70% reduction in energy consumption!). Contact our team to arrange a sample analysis and accompanying report showing clean water recovery levels (more details at https://localhost/latwater/testing-facilities).

Contact The LAT Water Team

If you’re looking for a new industrial wastewater treatment provider with modern technology and around-the-clock support, contact our team on +44 (0)1635 635900 or by emailing Download our corporate brochure for more details about our sustainable wastewater treatment solutions and check out the rest of our blog for more insights into the work that we do.

Elias Elia
14th Aug 2023