University of Newcastle to research plastic pollution in the Hunter's marine food chain and wastewater

The Hunter’s marine food chain and wastewater will be tested for plastic pollution, under a University of Newcastle research project.

Hunter Water has contributed $45,000 towards the wastewater study and Newcastle City Council $45,000 for the marine study over three years. 

The project will help Hunter Water develop ways to manage and treat microplastics in wastewater before they reach waterways, such as rivers and the ocean.

A Newcastle City Council spokesperson said the council was “pleased to be able to support this research as it will help us better understand sources and causes of plastic pollution”.

“This will help us prioritise works to reduce plastic pollution in our waterways.”

Hunter Water said it was supporting the university to “investigate the source, occurrence and distribution of microplastics in wastewater”.

The research will also investigate potential human and environmental health risks.

This work will help Hunter Water “assess and characterise the risks of this emerging environmental contamination issue both in treated effluent discharges and in biosolids destined for reuse”.

“Microplastics are present in numerous daily-use personal care and cosmetic products – these include shampoos and facial scrubs,”  Hunter Water executive manager for strategy and planning, Darren Cleary, said.

“Microfibres are shed from synthetic materials like polyester in clothing. These particles are rinsed directly down household drains and end up at wastewater treatment plants.”

Mr Cleary said microplastics and microfibres “appear, like many man-made contaminants and chemicals, to be present” in the environment around the world.

The university’s senior research fellow Dr Thava Palanisami said the study would lead to recommendations on “possible treatment technologies”.

“If you remove the particles in the wastewater, then you are reducing a lot of risk. It’s not going into the ocean.”

Hunter Water will work with utilities in Australia and internationally to better understand the risks of plastics how to manage them.