Retention of microplastics in a major secondary wastewater treatment plant in Vancouver, Canada

Mar Pollut Bull. 2018 Aug:133:553-561. doi: 10.1016/j.marpolbul.2018.06.006. Epub 2018 Jun 19.


Municipal wastewater treatment plants (WWTPs) are conduits through which microplastics (MPs) are released into aquatic environments. However, the technical challenges in working with wastewater sample matrices have precluded reliable particle count budget calculations. We applied newly-adapted methods for MP collection and analysis to a study of a major WWTP serving a population of 1.3 million people near Vancouver, Canada. Suspected MP particles, including fibres, were counted and categorized using light microscopy in influent, primary effluent, secondary effluent, primary sludge and secondary sludge. Fourier Transform Infrared Spectroscopy (FT-IR) confirmed that just 32.4% of the suspected MPs were plastic polymers. Using FT-IR corrected data, we estimate that 1.76 ± 0.31 trillion MPs enter the WWTP annually, with 1.28 ± 0.54 trillion MPs settling into primary sludge, 0.36 ± 0.22 into secondary sludge, and 0.03 ± 0.01 trillion MPs released into the receiving environment. This corresponds to a retention of microplastics of up to 99% in the WWTP.

Keywords: FT-IR; Microplastics; Ocean; Plastic; Pollution; Wastewater.

MeSH terms

  • British Columbia
  • Environmental Monitoring
  • Plastics / analysis*
  • Spectroscopy, Fourier Transform Infrared
  • Waste Disposal, Fluid*
  • Wastewater / analysis*
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical / analysis*


  • Plastics
  • Waste Water
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical