Microbial breakdown of microplastics for wastewater treatment

August 14th, 2023

The challenge

Plastics in the environment break down into smaller pieces, known as microplastics  (25µm to 5mm), which have the potential to harm organisms from their inadvertent uptake.

A significant amount of plastic ends up in waste-water treatment plants (WWTPs). WWTPs do not provide a complete barrier to these particles. 

Our response

This project will first identify various types and concentrations of microplastics from WWTPs, then focus on identifying local microbial populations that could speed up the breakdown of the microplastics.


Bioreactors will be used to determine the longer-term degradation rates of the microplastics and the most efficient microbial consortiums. Effects of parameters, such as WWTP inoculum location, temperature, dissolved oxygen and/or nutrient addition on plastics biodegradation will be evaluated. Microbial populations will be identified by high throughput genetic sequencing.

Waste-water treatment plant.

Principle Research Scientist