Microplastics in wastewater treatment systems


This project will explore the formation and mitigation of (bio)films on the surface of microplastics in wastewater treatment.

Project background

Pollution of water resources by microplastics (MP) is a global environmental problem that can cause toxic and adverse effects on human health and the environment. Wastewater treatment plants (WWTP) could be potentially one of the major sources of MPs release to the environment. For example, microfibres from clothing washing are transported in the raw effluent to WWTP where, because of their small size, they may bypass the treatment process. Furthermore, conventional biological processes cannot effectively destroy persistent and toxic organic compounds, such as MPs. Interactions of chemical and biological pollutants with MPs, which will enable the quantification of impacts and eco-toxicity of MPs, are not well understood yet.

Key research questions

  • What are the sorption rates of organic (e.g. antibiotics, personal care products) and biological (Escherichia coli bacteria) pollutants, commonly found in wastewater, onto MPs?
  • Which factors can affect pollutants sorption on MP and in what ways?
  • Can wastewater treatment technologies alter the characteristics of (bio)film-coated MPs?


The following experimental tasks will take place to address the project’s research questions:

Task 1. (0-18 months)

Lab-scale experiments will be carried out to estimate the adsorption rates of organic and biological pollutants, commonly found in wastewater, on the surface of weathered and pristine MPs. Representative pollutants will be selected and spiked in synthetic wastewater sample.

Task 2. (12-24 months)

Lab-scale experiments will be carried out to study the effect of factors that can affect the process. For example, the water matrix, the type and concentration of MPs, ambient temperature and light, processes that are typically used in wastewater treatment (e.g. UV).

Task 3. (12-36 months)

Analytical and microscopy methods will be applied to monitor changes on the surface of MPs and on (bio)film formation. Detection of MP degradation products in water will be also monitored. Monitoring methods will include scanning electron (SEM) and atomic force microscopy (AFM). Moreover, gas chromatography (GC-MS) and liquid chromatography (HPLC) will be used for quantification of organic compounds in water samples.


Apply by Thu Jan 04 2024 at 12:00 via https://www.ed.ac.uk/e4-dtp/how-to-apply/supervisor-led-projects/project...

Further Information: 

The University of Edinburgh is committed to equality of opportunity for all its staff and students, and promotes a culture of inclusivity. Please see details here: https://www.ed.ac.uk/equality-diversity

Closing Date: 

Thursday, January 4, 2024

Principal Supervisor: 

Assistant Supervisor: 



Minimum entry qualification - an Honours degree at 2:1 or above (or International equivalent) in a relevant science or engineering discipline, possibly supported by an MSc Degree. Further information on English language requirements for EU/Overseas applicants.

Student should have a solid background in Chemical Engineering, Civil and Environmental Engineering, Biology, Chemistry or Physics with fundamental knowledge in Water and Wastewater Systems. 


Tuition fees + stipend are available for Home/EU and International students.