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Fate of microplastics in a coastal wastewater treatment plant: Microfibers could partially break through the integrated membrane system

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Rare information on the fate of microplastics in the integrated membrane system (IMS) system in full-scale wastewater treatment plant was available. The fate of microplastics in IMS in a coastal reclaimed water plant was investigated. The removal rate of microplastics in the IMS system reached 93.2% after membrane bioreactor (MBR) treatment while that further increased to 98.0% after the reverse osmosis (RO) membrane process. The flux of microplastics in MBR effluent was reduced from 1.5 × 10 MPs/d to 10.2 × 1011 MPs/d while that of the RO treatment decreased to 2.7 × 1011 MPs/d. Small scale fiber plastics (< 200 μm) could break through RO system according to the size distribution analysis. The application of the IMS system in the reclaimed water plant could prevent most of the microplastics from being discharged in the coastal water. These findings suggested that the IMS system was more efficient than conventional activated sludge system (CAS) for the removal of microplastics, while the discharge of small scale fiber plastics through the IMS system should also not be neglected because small scale fiber plastics (< 200 μm) could break through IMS system equipped with the RO system.

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This work was financially supported by the National Natural Science Foundation of China (Grant No. 41877131), Taishan Scholar Program of Shandong Province (China) (No. tsqn201812116), Science and Technology Service Network Initiative of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (KFJ-STS-QYZX-114), Two-Hundred Talents Plan of Yantai (China) (Y739011021), and Wanhua Chemical Group Co. Ltd. (China).

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Correspondence to Jian Lu.

Additional information


• Fate of microplastics in integrated membrane system for water reuse was investigated.

• Integrated membrane system has high removal efficiency (>98%) for microplastics.

• Microplastics (>93%) were mainly removed through membrane bioreactor treatment.

• Small scale fiber plastics (< 200 μm) could break through reverse osmosis (RO) system.

• The flux of microplastics maintained at 2.7 × 1011 MPs/d after the RO treatment.

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Cai, Y., Wu, J., Lu, J. et al. Fate of microplastics in a coastal wastewater treatment plant: Microfibers could partially break through the integrated membrane system. Front. Environ. Sci. Eng. 16, 96 (2022).

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