Effects of mesophilic and thermophilic anaerobic digestion of sewage sludge on different polymers: Perspectives on the potential of the treatment to degrade microplastics

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Abstract

Sewage sludge is produced during municipal wastewater treatment and can be further treated to be used for soil applications due to its high nutrient and carbon content. Anaerobic digestion is often used to manage sewage sludge. However, sewage sludge has a high load of microplastics that can be transferred to the soil, causing a burden to the environment. Some researchers suggest that anaerobic digestion could be used as a method to remove microplastics from sewage sludge, while others have shown the opposite. In this study, a variety of commodity polymers (LLDPE, HDPE, PP, PS, PET, uPVC, PA66 and SBR) are tested under mesophilic (35 °C) and thermophilic (55 °C) anaerobic digestion to evaluate their degradation after the process. As 1 mm thick sheets of polymers were used, in terms of diffusion they were considered to correspond to microplastics. Different characterization methods were used to access the visual, chemical, mechanical and thermal changes caused by anaerobic digestion. The results showed evidence of polymer degradation, for example, surface smoothening of LLDPE, HDPE and PP, embrittlement of PS and uPVC, hydrolysis of PET, plasticization of PA66, and surface cracking of SBR. However, although some changes in properties happened, anaerobic digestion could not comprehensively degrade the studied polymers. Therefore, this study suggests that anaerobic digestion of sewage sludge, at the conditions tested, is not able to be used as a method to eliminate microplastics from the sewage sludge before it is added to the soil.

Original languageEnglish
Article number168014
JournalScience of the Total Environment
Volume907
Early online date25 Oct 2023
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 10 Jan 2024
Publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed

Keywords

  • Microplastics elimination
  • Plastic pollution
  • Polymer degradation
  • Sludge management
  • Soil safety

Publication forum classification

  • Publication forum level 2

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Engineering
  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Waste Management and Disposal
  • Pollution

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