Big question

How do we achieve zero harm from plastics via our operations and activities by 2050?

We are currently working on the approach to answering this Big Question, and more information will be given here soon.

The areas that this Big Question covers includes:

  • Evaluate if we are contributing harmful plastics to the water cycle
  • Establish their source and effective control measures to remove them

Once we understand where the gaps are, we will produce a route map – this is a plan as to how we will answer our Big Question.

The route map will have a number of key elements. At the top will be our Big Question and then we will look to see what Outcomes we need from the research programme -if we can achieve all these outcomes we can answer the Big Question. This is the stage we are currently at for this Big Question.

The next stage will be to think about the key benefits we want the research projects to deliver to meet these outcomes.

Following this, we will plan the research projects to help deliver the benefits.

UKWIR – the UK and Irish water industry’s research body – has commissioned the first study of its kind in the UK to develop a robust approach to sampling and detection of microplastic particles in the treated water cycle. This included accurately measuring the presence of microplastic particles in potable (drinking) water, treated wastewater and in the solid residues (sludge) produced by both the water and wastewater treatment processes. Please click here to view more information.


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Achieving zero harm from plastics via water industry operations and activities Phase 1

Project Status - Project Commenced

Aim: to develop the research challenges that need to be addressed to tackle the issue of plastics in the terrestrial water cycle. The research challenges will later be used by UKWIR to generate calls, ideally including short (1-2 years), medium (2-3 years) and longer term (3-5 years).
- Preparatory work: providing the sector information required and including input from the water/waste supply chains. Information gathered through this process will inform the delivery of the workshop, the nature of the workshop questions discussed, and the material will later be used by UKWIR in developing the research roadmap.
- Workshop: A facilitated workshop through which to test assumptions, identify and rank research challenges.
- Workshop follow-up: develop outputs and report to UKWIR. Primarily the research challenges.


Sink to River - River to Tap - A review of potential risks from nano-particles & microplastics

Project Status - Project submitted as Complete

Category - Drinking Water

With regards to nanoparticles:-

Establish which are thought or perceived to be of concern to water industry activities and operations. Which could have a detrimental impact on final product quality (final effluent wastewater, drinking water, biosolids)?

With regards to microplastics:-

Assess the presence, quanitity, type and possible source of these  particles in wastewater

Assess changes during transport through sewerage systems

Assess changes/removal during waste-water treatment - where do they partition - sludge or effluent?

Assess changes/attenuation within river systems

Assess the presence, quantity, type and possible source of these particles in sources of drinking water 

Assess the potential efficacy of water treatment processes to remove any particles found in sources of drinking water.