Impacts of MicroPlastics in AgroSystems and Stream Environment (IMPASSE)


Microplastics are increasingly seen as an environmental problem of global proportions. While the focus to date has been on microplastics in the ocean and their effects on marine life, microplastics in soils have largely been overlooked. Lack of knowledge regarding potential consequences of microplastics in agricultural landscapes from application of sewage sludge are of great concern.

Fertilizer based on sludge contains valuable nutrients, but sustainable use requires that the levels of undesirable substances in the sludge is kept under control. Wastewater treatment plants receive large amounts of microplastics emitted from households, industry and surface runoff in urban areas. Most of these microplastics accumulate in the sewage sludge.

Photo 6. Installing runoff samplig devices
Installing runoff samplig devices.

In many countries large amounts of sludge from municipal sewage treatment plants are applied to agricultural soils to recover value organic matter and nutrients. These applications are generally well regulated as sludge might contain hazardous substances of different sorts. Microplastics are however not currently on the regulatory agenda for the use of sludge in agriculture. The potential consequences for agricultural sustainability and food security have not been adequately analyzed.

IMPASSE is the first international research project, funded through the Water Joint Programming initiative (JPI) investigating the loads, fluxes and impacts of microplastics in farmlands.

Pict IMPASSE meeting IMDEA
Several international partners collaborate in the IMPASSE project.

Involved partners are:

We carry out seminar work on the development of new and validated methods to measure microplastics in complex samples such as soil and sediments. We collect and analyze samples of sewage sludge, fertilizers, soil, sediments, stream water and wastewater. We are working in further developing and validating decision and risk assessment support tools, such as soil and stream model of microplastic fate and transport. We are also conducting seminar toxicological tests with terrestrial and freshwater organisms (Macroinvertebrates).

Our goal is to serve the scientific community, stakeholders and the public sector to understand the implication of plastic in farming and freshwater environment and design perspective for a sustainable future and utilization of biofertilizers.

Learn more about the IMPASSE stakeholders here.

IMPASSE consortium web sites:

  1. Norwegian Institute for Water Research (Norway)
  2. Swedish University of Agricultural Science (Sweden)
  3. University of Windsor (Canada)
  4. IMDEA-Water (Spain)
  5. Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam (The Netherlands)

Impasse is a project funded by EU, funding agencies in Norway, Sweden, Spain, Netherland and Canada. The project received support in the frame of the the ERA-NET WaterWorks2015 Cofunded Call. This ERA-NET is an integral part of the 2016 Joint Activities developed by the Water Challenges for a Changing World Joint Programme Initiative (Water JPI).

Samples of soil core for microplastics analysis.
Sampling of runoff from agricultural fields.


Download the IMPASSE popularized report and results here (pdf)

Last updated 23.04.2019