Microplastics in the Environment

by Erin Humphries (NSW Analytical and Environmental Group)

On 9th September, the NSW Analytical and Environmental Chemistry Group hosted a “Microplastics in the Environment” Webinar. The event featured three speakers, Dr Mark Anthony Browne from UNSW, Dr Julia Jaeger from Eurofins NSW and Grace Nye-Butler from UNSW and was generously sponsored by Agilent Technologies.

Mark kickstarted the webinar with a discussion into the sources, fate and impact of microplastics in terrestrial, marine and freshwater habitats.  He described how the stringent definition by NSW of what constitutes a pollutant is more advanced than the rest of the world and therefore requires closer ecological monitoring of microplastics.  Mark also discussed how washing machine filters can help reduce polyester and cotton fibre debris normally emitted to sewage.


Julia then ran through a wide range of sample types that contain microplastics including water, soil, biota, air, environmental and food samples.  She shared a concerning estimate that we ingest roughly 5 grams of microplastics every single week.  Julia then described why analysing samples for microplastics is analytically challenging due to a lack of standardisation in sampling collection methods, clean-up methods and various analysis techniques depending on the instrumentation used.



Grace concluded the webinar by describing the difficulties of using laboratory-based tests to determine the rates and mechanisms of microplastic degradation in the environment.  She highlighted the need for field-based experiments and rigorous statistical analysis to better understand the uneven degradation of microplastics.



Our first webinar was a huge success, with over 70 registered attendees from multiple states.  Kris Mobberley (Chair of Analytical and Environmental Chemistry Group) did an excellent job in moderating the event and facilitating questions from the audience.  The committee looks forward to hosting our next webinar in early 2021.