Heat and Bleach: A Cost-Efficient Method for Extracting Microplastics from Return Activated Sludge

  • Surya Sujathan
  • Ann-Kathrin Kniggendorf
  • Arun Kumar
  • Bernhard Roth
  • Karl-Heinz Rosenwinkel
  • Regina Nogueira


The extraction of plastic microparticles, so-called microplastics, from sludge is a challenging task due to the complex, highly organic material often interspersed with other benign microparticles. The current procedures for microplastic extraction from sludge are time consuming and require expensive reagents for density separation as well as large volumes of oxidizing agents for organic removal, often resulting in tiny sample sizes and thus a disproportional risk of sample bias. In this work, we present an improved extraction method tested on return activated sludge (RAS). The treatment of 100 ml of RAS requires only 6% hydrogen peroxide (H2O2) for bleaching at 70 °C, followed by density separation with sodium nitrate/sodium thiosulfate (SNT) solution, and is completed within 24 h. Extracted particles of all sizes were chemically analyzed with confocal Raman microscopy. An extraction efficiency of 78 ± 8% for plastic particle sizes 20 µm and up was confirmed in a recovery experiment. However, glass shards with a diameter of less than 20 µm remained in the sample despite the density of glass exceeding the density of the separating SNT solution by 1.1 g/cm3. This indicates that density separation may be unreliable for particle sizes in the lower micrometer range.



The authors thank Karin Kock and Benjamin Schwanda for their technical assistance to their work. The work of Dr. Kniggendorf was funded by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) of Germany within the project of OPTIMUS (Project Number: 13N13811). The work of Surya Sujathan was funded by the DAAD Sandwich Model Scholarships for Master’s Students of the IITs and IIMs, 2015 (Personal Ref No: 91590631).


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Surya Sujathan
    • 1
  • Ann-Kathrin Kniggendorf
    • 2
  • Arun Kumar
    • 3
  • Bernhard Roth
    • 2
  • Karl-Heinz Rosenwinkel
    • 4
  • Regina Nogueira
    • 4
  1. 1.Department of Civil EngineeringIIT KanpurKanpurIndia
  2. 2.Hannover Centre for Optical TechnologiesGottfried-Wilhelm-Leibniz Universität HannoverHannoverGermany
  3. 3.Department of Civil EngineeringIIT DelhiHauz KhasIndia
  4. 4.Institut für Siedlungswasserwirtschaft und AbfalltechnikGottfried-Wilhelm-Leibniz Universität HannoverHannoverGermany

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