Microplastics in the environment (Microplastics issue)

  • On the harmonization of methods for measuring the occurrence, fate and effects of microplastics, Chelsea M. Rochman, Fiona Regan and Richard C. Thompson  
  • Analytical challenges associated with the determination of microplastics in the environment, Robert C. Hale
  • Improving microplastics source apportionment: a role for microplastic morphology and taxonomy? Paul A. Helm
  • Some problems and practicalities in design and interpretation of samples of microplastic waste, A. J. Underwood, M. G. Chapman and Mark Anthony Browne
  • Sampling, isolating and identifying microplastics ingested by fish and invertebrates, A. L. Lusher, N. A. Welden, P. Sobral and M. Cole  
and other 17 articles

Microplastics in freshwater and terrestrial environments: Evaluating the current understanding to identify the knowledge gaps and future research priorities

Plastic debris is an environmentally persistent and complex contaminant of increasing concern. Understanding the sources, abundance and composition of microplastics present in the environment is a huge challenge due to the fact that hundreds of millions of tonnes of plastic material is manufactured for societal use annually, some of which is released to the environment. The majority of microplastics research to date has focussed on the marine environment. Although freshwater and terrestrial environments are recognised as origins and transport pathways of plastics to the oceans, there is still a comparative lack of knowledge about these environmental compartments. It is highly likely that microplastics will accumulate within continental environments, especially in areas of high anthropogenic influence such as agricultural or urban areas. This review critically evaluates the current literature on the presence, behaviour and fate of microplastics in freshwater and terrestrial environments and, where appropriate, also draws on relevant studies from other fields including nanotechnology, agriculture and waste management. Furthermore, we evaluate the relevant biological and chemical information from the substantial body of marine microplastic literature, determining the applicability and comparability of this data to freshwater and terrestrial systems. With the evidence presented, the authors have set out the current state of the knowledge, and identified the key gaps. These include the volume and composition of microplastics entering the environment, behaviour and fate of microplastics under a variety of environmental conditions and how characteristics of microplastics influence their toxicity. Given the technical challenges surrounding microplastics research, it is especially important that future studies develop standardised techniques to allow for comparability of data. The identification of these research needs will help inform the design of future studies, to determine both the extent and potential ecological impacts of microplastic pollution in freshwater and terrestrial environments.

Alice A. Horton, Alexander Walton, David J. Spurgeon, Elma Lahive, Claus Svendsen, Science of The Total Environment, Volume 586, 15 May 2017, Pages 127–141

The article

Exceptionally high abundances of microplastics in the oligotrophic Israeli Mediterranean coastal waters

Seasonal sea surface microplastic distribution was recorded at 17 sites along the Israeli Mediterranean coast. Microplastics (0.3–5 mm) were found in all samples, with a mean abundance of 7.68 ± 2.38 particles/m3 or 1,518,340 particles/km2. Some areas had higher abundances of microplastics than others, although differences were neither consistent nor statistically significant. In some cases microplastic particles were found floating in large patches. One of these patches contained an extraordinary number of plastic particles; 324 particles/m3 or 64,812,600 particles/km2. Microplastic abundances in Israeli coastal waters are disturbingly high; mean values were 1–2 orders of magnitude higher than abundances reported in other parts of the world. Light-colored (white or transparent) fragments were by far more abundant than all other microplastic colors and types. The results of this study underline the need for action to reduce the flux of plastics to the marine environment.

Noam van der Hal, Asaf Ariel, Dror L. Angel, Marine Pollution Bulletin, Volume 116, Issues 1–2, 15 March 2017, Pages 151–155

The article

Transport of microplastics by two collembolan species

Plastics, despite their great benefits, have become a ubiquitous environmental pollutant, with microplastic particles having come into focus most recently. Microplastic effects have been intensely studied in aquatic, especially marine systems; however, there is lack of studies focusing on effects on soil and its biota. A basic question is if and how surface-deposited microplastic particles are transported into the soil. We here wished to test if soil microarthropods, using Collembola, can transport these particles over distances of centimeters within days in a highly controlled experimental set-up. We conducted a fully factorial experiment with two collembolan species of differing body size, Folsomia candida and Proisotoma minuta, in combination with urea-formaldehyde particles of two different particle sizes. We observed significant differences between the species concerning the distance the particles were transported. F. candida was able to transport larger particles further and faster than P. minuta. Using video, we observed F. candida interacting with urea-formaldehyde particles and polyethylene terephthalate fibers, showing translocation of both material types. Our data clearly show that microplastic particles can be moved and distributed by soil microarthropods. Although we did not observe feeding, it is possible that microarthropods contribute to the accumulation of microplastics in the soil food web.

Stefanie Maaß, Daniel Daphi, Anika Lehmann, Matthias C. Rillig, Environmental Pollution, Available online 17 March 2017, In Press

The article

The Portuguese plastic carrier bag tax: The effects on consumers’ behavior

Marine litter from lightweight plastic bags is a global problem that must be solved. A plastic bag tax was implemented in February 2015 to reduce the consumption of plastic grocery bags in Portugal and in turn reduce the potential contribution to marine litter. This study analyzes the effect of the plastic bag tax on consumer behavior to learn how it was received and determine the perceived effectiveness of the tax 4 months after its implementation. In addition, the study assessed how proximity to coastal areas could influence behaviors and opinions. The results showed a 74% reduction of plastic bag consumption with a simultaneously 61% increase of reusable plastic bags after the tax was implemented. Because plastic bags were then reused for shopping instead of garbage bags, however, the consumption of garbage bags increased by 12%. Although reduction was achieved, the tax had no effect on the perception of marine litter or the impact of plastic bags on environment and health. The majority of respondents agree with the tax but view it as an extra revenue to the State. The distance to the coast had no meaningful influence on consumer behavior or on the perception of the tax. Although the tax was able to promote the reduction of plastics, the role of hypermarkets and supermarkets in providing alternatives through the distribution of reusable plastic bags was determinant to ensuring the reduction.

Graça Martinho, Natacha Balaia, Ana Pires, Waste Management, Volume 61, March 2017, Pages 3–12

The article

Marine litter on the seafloor of the Faial-Pico Passage, Azores Archipelago

Plastic pollution in the marine environment attracts much attention from both researchers and the general public. Plastic items and other debris are commonly observed everywhere in the ocean, from the surface down to the deep ocean floor. In this study, we analysed 45.2 km of video footage, collected during 56 transects surveying the seafloor of the Faial-Pico Passage in order to quantify the abundance of marine litter and its interactions with benthic fauna. The footage was collected by a Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) and a manned submersible at depths ranging between 40 and 525 m. The mean litter density in the passage was 0.26 ± 0.03 items·100 m− 1 (± SE) and was significantly higher between 151 and 250 m compared to other depth strata. Overall, derelict fishing gear, mostly made of plastic, were the most common objects found on the seafloor, representing 64% of all items. Although we observed few evidence of direct deleterious effects by the litter, interactions with fauna were observed in more than half of the items. This study makes an important contribution in quantifying the abundance of marine litter on the seafloor of the Azores. The location of the Faial-Pico Passage, close to shore, makes it an appropriate site for long-term monitoring of litter on the seafloor and evaluate the efficiency of upcoming public policies aimed at reducing litter input into the oceans.

Yasmina Rodríguez, Christopher K. Pham, Marine Pollution Bulletin, Volume 116, Issues 1–2, 15 March 2017, Pages 448–453

The article

Characterization and Analysis of Microplastics

This book aims to fulfill the gap on the existence of published analytical methodologies for the identification and quantification of microplastics. This overview includes the following main topics: introduction to the fate and behavior of microplastics in the environment, assessment of sampling techniques and sample handling, morphological, physical, and chemical characterization of microplastics, and the role of laboratory experiments in the validation of field data.

The characterization and analysis of microplastics is a hot topic considering the current need for reliable data on concentrations of microplastics in environmental compartments. This book presents a comprehensive overview of the analytical techniques and future perspectives of analytical methodologies in the field.

Comprehensive Analytical Chemistry, Volume 75, Pages 1-286 (2017), edited by Teresa A.P. Rocha-Santos and Armando C. Duarte, ISBN: 978-0-444-63898-4

The book