Microplastics in the environment are either a product of the fractionation of larger plastic items or a consequence of the release of microbeads, which are ingredients of cosmetics, through wastewater treatment plant (WWTP) effluents. The aim of this study was to estimate the amount of microbeads that may be released by the latter pathways to surface waters using Ljubljana, Slovenia as a case study. For this purpose, microbeads contained in cosmetics were in a first step characterized for their physical properties and particle size distribution. Subsequently, daily emission of microbeads from consumers to the sewerage system, their fate in biological WWTPs and finally their release into surface waters were estimated for Ljubljana. Most of the particles found in cosmetic products were <100 μm. After application, microbeads are released into sewerage system at an average rate of 15.2 mg per person per day. Experiments using a lab-scale sequencing batch biological WWTP confirmed that on average 52% of microbeads are captured in activated sludge. Particle size analyses of the influent and effluent confirmed that smaller particles (up to 60–70 μm) are captured within activated sludge while bigger particles were detected in the effluent. Applying these data to the situation in Ljubljana indicates that about 112,500,000 particles may daily be released into the receiving river, resulting in a microbeads concentration of 21 particles/m3. Since polyethylene particles cannot be degraded and thus likely accumulate, the data raise concerns about potential effects in aquatic ecosystems in future.
Cosmetics, Freshwater, Microplastics, Polyethylene microbead
Kalčíková Gabriela, Branko Alič, Tina Skalar, Mirco Bundschuh, Andreja Žgajnar Gotvajn (2017): Wastewater treatment plant effluents as source of cosmetic polyethylene microbeads to freshwater. Chemosphere, vol. 188, str. 25-31