Photo: IRIS

IRIS Environment and IVAR have joined forces to improve the knowledge on microplastics in the environment


The overall objective of the project is to find out to what extent wastewater treatment systems are a gateway for microplastic particles in the aquatic environment and in the soil.

Since the early 1950’s, the use of plastics worldwide has increased. Even though plastics play an important role in many industries and in our everyday lives it has also become more and more   evident that this persistent material represents a   major threat to the environment.

Microplastic are defined as plastic particles less than 5 mm in size (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, NOAA). Primary microplastics are manufactured to be  microscopic e.g. plastic microbeads added to products such as face wash, toothpaste, sunscreen and shaving cream. Secondary microplastics fall off polyester and other synthetic fabrics during machine-wash.  In both cases, the microplastic particles  continue their travel with the wastewater to water treatment plants and depending on the filtration capacity of the plants,  end up in  environment.  Small animals in the sea, like plankton, confuse   the microplastic particles with food and thus the particles get into the food chain and  may end up on our dinner plate.
The knowledge about the fate and the effects of microplastics in the marine environment is increasing, but for the freshwater and terrestrial ecosystems there are extensive knowledge gaps. The data on the biological effects of microplastic in freshwater species is completely lacking, which causes concern both for the environment and for human health
The main objective of this RFF-VEST funded project is to develop a standardized method to collect, quantify and characterize microplastic particles in sewage treatment plants (STP). This study will contribute to the knowledge on STPs as possible sources of micro-plastic particles in water and land. The survey will be conducted in two plants applying different “cleaning” systems (North Jæren STP and the Grødaland STP). The study will have special focus on the sewage sludge, a valuable by-product which is being used in agriculture. According to the Norwegian legislation, stabilized sludge can be used as fertilizer if not harmful to the environment or to public health. However, more research is needed to understand the potential accumulation and adverse biological effects of microplastics in aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems.

IVAR is an inter-municipal company owned by 13 municipalities in Rogaland. IVAR supplies drinking water to about approximately 320 000 people, and receives and treats solid waste and waste water from municipal owners.

Project leader in IRIS:
Alessio Gomiero: alessio.gomiero@iris.no
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Duis, K., & Coors, A. (2016).
Microplastics in the aquatic and terrestrial environment: sources (with a specific focus on personal care products), fate and effects. Environmental Sciences Europe, 28(1), 1.

HELCOM (2009).
Eutrophication in the Baltic Sea – An integrated thematic assessment of the effects of nutrient enrichment in the Baltic Sea region. HELCOM Baltic Sea Environment Proceedings. No. 115B.

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HELCOM (2014). Eutrophication status of the Baltic Sea 2007–2011 – A concise thematic assessment. Baltic Sea Environment Proceedings No. 143

Mani T., Hauk A., Walter U., Burkhardt-Holm P. (2015).
Microplastics profile along the Rhine River. Scientific reports, 5

McCormick A., Hoellein TJ., Mason SA., Schluep J., Kelly JJ. (2014).
Microplastic is an abundant and distinct microbial habitat in an urban river. Environmental science & technology, 48(20), 11863-11871

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Talvitie J., Heinonen M., Pääkkönen JP., Vahtera E., Mikola A., Setälä O., Vahala R. (2015).
Do wastewater treatment plants act as a potential point source of microplastics? Preliminary study in the coastal Gulf of Finland, Baltic Sea. Water Science and Technology, 72(9), 1495-1504

Van Wezel A., Caris I., Kools S. (2015). Release of primary microplastics from consumer products to wastewater in The Netherlands. Environ Toxicol Chem. Accepted Author Manuscript.doi:10.1002/etc.3316
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