Transport and fate of microplastics in wastewater treatment plants: implications to environmental health

  • Subash Raju
  • Maddison Carbery
  • Aswin Kuttykattil
  • Kala Senathirajah
  • S. R. Subashchandrabose
  • Geoffrey Evans
  • Palanisami ThavamaniEmail author
Review Paper


Global studies of microplastic (MP) pollution confirm wastewater treatment plants serve as pathways for microplastics entering terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems. The behaviour, transport and fate of microplastics in wastewater effluents remain mostly unknown, rendering wastewater-derived microplastics as a contaminant of significant concern. We critically examine the literature to understand the sources and fate of microplastics in wastewater treatment plants (WWTPs) and the implications of treated effluents admitted to soil and aquatic systems. The transport of chemical and biological contaminants is also discussed in detail, using fundamental principles of vector relationships. For the removal and reduction of microplastics, profound knowledge is required from source to solution. This review presents a comprehensive overview of the significance of microplastics as a vector of water-borne contaminants in WWTPs.


Wastewater Treatment plant Microplastics Chemical transport Antibiotic-resistant genes Vector relationship 



Attenuated total reflectance














Dry weight


Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy




High-density polyethylene












Acrylic fibres




Polyethylene terephthalate






Polyphenylene sulfide




Polyvinyl Chloride




Scanning Electron Microscopy








Wet weight


Wastewater treatment plants





The authors wish to acknowledge the Hunter Water Corporation and The University of Newcastle, Australia for the financial support through the Industry-University Engagement Scholarship. Authors also wish to thank Dr. Anna Lundmark, Mrs. Zoe Rogers and Mr. Bruce Cole from Hunter Water Corporation for providing water industry perspectives to set this research focus.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Global Centre for Environmental Remediation (GCER), Advanced Technology CentreThe University of NewcastleCallaghanAustralia
  2. 2.Cevas International Pty LtdNedlandsAustralia
  3. 3.School of Engineering, Faculty of Engineering and Built Environment, NIER BuildingThe University of NewcastleCallaghanAustralia

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