STORMWATER STRAIGHT TALK: Microplastics in Stormwater Runoff

  • Published
  • By 78th Civil Engineer Group

Consumption of plastic has rapidly increased over the years with regular use throughout our daily life. Widespread plastic usage around the world has become a threatening factor for aquatic life and the environment.

Plastic is generally not biodegradable; instead, it breaks up into smaller and smaller particles. Particles less than five millimeters in length are called microplastics, which are being found throughout aquatic ecosystems. Due to their slow degradability and toxicity, microplastics pose risks to the environment by accumulating in the organs and tissues of living organisms. Microplastics are often introduced into the environment through atmospheric deposition, agricultural runoff, industrial wastewater and stormwater runoff.

Among these microplastic-carrying sources, stormwater runoff is one of the major conveyance paths for microplastics to be transported into downstream water bodies.

As stormwater flows across the ground, the runoff also transports pollutants such as sediment particles, heavy metals and organic pollutants to downstream water bodies. Once microplastics are mixed into the stormwater runoff, removal of these substances prior to discharge into water bodies becomes an arduous and expensive task.

One of the easiest ways to mitigate microplastic pollution is to reduce the microplastic pollution in the upstream source. Improper use and disposal of plastic materials and worn-out tires on roads are often listed as the major sources of microplastics in stormwater runoff.

Ways you can reduce microplastics in stormwater runoff include:
- Limiting your plastic usage
- Opting for reusable items instead of single-use plastics
- Disposing and recycling plastic waste appropriately
- Rotating your car tires regularly and maintaining tire air pressure to avoid tire wear
- Washing your car at car washes or on pervious services so that water is treated or infiltrated before entering the environment
- Keeping storm drains free of debris and using inlet protection devices to filter discharges, if needed

If improper waste disposal is observed at Robins Air Force Base, please contact Environmental Management at 478-327-9283.