We cannot avoid them anymore: microplastics are part of our environment. They have been found in air, soil, snow and water. The surface water sources such as the Rhine and Meuse are important sources for the production of drinking water but, unfortunately, do contain microplastics. Microplastics originate from a variety of sources such as discharges from sewage treatment plants and from industry. Therefore, in the Netherlands, the water cycle is a crucial factor for the amount of microplastics in surface water and provides opportunities to limit the amount of microplastics.

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Our goal with microplastics

We want to continue to supply good and safe drinking water now and in the future. Therefore, it is important to gain knowledge on the amount of microplastics and how to reduce the amount in the water treatment plants. Knowledge is the first step for obtaining opportunities and therefore, Het Waterlaboratorium and its drinking water companies, conduct exploratory research on microplastics. Besides, Het Waterlaboratorium is actively involved in the national and international movement of the microplastics field. Little is known about the risks of microplastics and there is a lack of standardized methods to measure them. However, the Dutch water quality concerns to all of us, which exactly is the reason why the drinking water sector invest in knowledge and practical experience.

An important starting point for microplastics is not only how we can measure them and if they pose a risk, but also how we can ensure that they do not pose a problem for the Dutch drinking water quality and the drinking water supply. Together with their partners, Het Waterlaboratorium aims to prevent microplastics from ending up in the environment and the surface water. In this way the environment is better protected against microplastics and the drinking water treatment plant has to remove less microplastic. Cleaner drinking water and a clearer nature – Who wouldn’t want that?

Our expertise

In 2018, Het Waterlaboratorium developed a method for microplastics which consist of a sampling and analysis procedure, and is based on microscopy for microplastics larger than 50 µm. In collaboration with the drinking water companies Dunea and Waternet, Het Waterlaboratorium investigated the amount of microplastics in 2019 and 2020 on water in de drinking water treatment plant, and in drinking water itself. Various points were selected in the drinking water treatment plant; surface water of the Meuse and Rhine, the water between purification steps, drinking water and tap water. The results showed that microplastics are present in all surface waters. However, many microplastics are removed during the treatment plant. In fact, in 10,000 liters of tap water, not a measurable amount of microplastics was found under the microscope [1],[2].

Besides, Het Waterlaboratorium collects information about microplastics on the other side of the water cycle. On behalf of the water company PWN, Het Waterlaboratorium investigates together with PWN, knowledge institute KWR, Het Hoogheemraadschap Hollands Noorderkwartier (HHNK) and start-up The Great Bubble Barrier, the amount of microplastics which enter the sewage treatment plant, how many microplastics are removed and the amount that goes from the sewage treatment plant to the surface water. This project provides insight in the amount of microplastics due to anthropogenic influence. Besides, investigation whether bubble screens can provide a barrier against outflowing plastics are explored.


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Eelco Pieke

Hoofd Markt & Advies
023 517 59 00