Microplastics and pollutants in biosolids have contaminated agricultural soils: An analytical study and a proposal to cease the use of biosolids in farmlands and utilise them in sustainable bricks

Waste Manag. 2020 Apr 15;107:252-265. doi: 10.1016/j.wasman.2020.04.021. Epub 2020 Apr 19.


Treated waste-water sludge (biosolids) are frequently recycled in agricultural lands; however, this practice has polluted soils with microplastics (MPs), nanoplastics (NPs), synthetics, heavy metals, pharmaceuticals and engineered nanoparticles. This study analyses many of the significant research outcomes in this area and proposes the urgent reduction of biosolids recycling in farmlands, aiming to eliminate their use altogether as soon as practicable, and instead, to utilise this material as a source of brick firing energy in the manufacturing of fired clay bricks and as a replacement for virgin brick soil. Based on a comprehensive data analysis, this study has calculated that in the European Union, the United States, China, Canada and Australia, approximately 26,042, 21,249, 13,660, 1,518 and 1,241 tonnes of microplastics, respectively, are added to farmlands annually as a result of biosolids application. The accumulation of microplastics produces detrimental effects on soil organisms and increases the accumulation of other micropollutants, such as heavy metals. The degradation of MPs over time is a source for the creation of nanoplastics, which pose a greater threat to ecosystems and human and animal health, as their size allows for their absorption into plant cells. On the other hand, the results of a comprehensive study at RMIT, including a comprehensive Life-Cycle Assessment, confirm that recycling biosolids in fired clay bricks (Bio-Bricks) is a promising sustainable alternative. This study proposes the mandatory addition of 7% biosolids in all brick manufacturing worldwide to utilize all biosolids production in fired clay bricks. This will reduce brick firing energy by over 12.5%.

Keywords: Biosolids; Contamination in agricultural soils; Fired clay bricks – bio-bricks; Microplastics; Nanoplastics; Waste management.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Australia
  • Biosolids
  • Canada
  • China
  • Ecosystem
  • Environmental Pollutants*
  • Farms
  • Humans
  • Microplastics
  • Plastics
  • Soil
  • Soil Pollutants*


  • Biosolids
  • Environmental Pollutants
  • Microplastics
  • Plastics
  • Soil
  • Soil Pollutants