The analysis and occurrence of plastic micro-fibres in sewage sludge and soil


Objectives and activities

Microplastics are small pieces of plastic that pollute the environment and a growing concern for environmental scientists and the general public. The prevalence of microplastics in the marine environment is now well known, with the UK, EU and G7 all confirming that action on marine litter is now a top priority. An important category of microplastics are synthetic fibres shed when washing clothes. A single garment can release up to 2000 microfibres per wash into domestic wastewater.

Very little is known about how the properties of textiles impact the shedding of plastic microfibres during washing nor the extent to which microfibres act as vectors for hazardous pollutants or indeed, their ultimate environmental fate. The main objective of this UGPN project, led by Dr Tom Bond at the University of Surrey, is to fill these gaps using interdisciplinary methods taken from wastewater engineering, analytical chemistry and textile science.

The isolation and quantification of plastic microfibres in soil is a complex analytical challenge. As such, the project is initially focused on plastics in laundry wastewater and sewage sludge, before moving onto soil. Its aim is to provide new information of global significance about plastic microfibres during sewage treatment and in the soil. Outreach activities to encourage the participation of young people in civil engineering ensure the project provides meaningful impact.

From left to right: Karen Leonas (North Carolina State University), Monica Felipe-Sotelo (University of Surrey), Richard Venditti (North Carolina State University), Marielis Zambrano (North Carolina State University), Tom Bond (University of Surrey) and Harry Frost (University of Surrey)