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Science of Plastic Pollution

Plastic pollution dates from at least the 1940s, but the science around the impacts of plastic pollution is a recent field, presumably spurred in recent years by the pervasiveness of the problem, and media 'shock' coverage of the subject. On this page we present some scientific papers on the subject.

September 2021 - Occurrence of Polyethylene Terephthalate and Polycarbonate Microplastics in Infant and Adult Feces (ACS Publications)

February 2021 - Microplastics and human health (Science Advances)

February 2021 - Nano- and microplastics affect the composition of freshwater benthic communities in the long term (Science Advances)

July 2020 - Accumulation and effects of microplastic fibers in American lobster larvae (Homarus americanus) (Science)

June 2020 - Plastic rain in protected areas of the United States (Science)

June 2020 - Microfiber release from real soiled consumer laundry and the impact of fabric care products and washing conditions (Plos One)

February 2020 - Draft Science Assessment of Plastic Pollution (Government of Canada)

January 2020 - Microplastics and Wastewater Treatment Plants—A Review (Journal of Water Resource and Protection)

January 2020 - Nano- and microplastics affect the composition of freshwater benthic communities in the long term (Science Advances)

December 2019 - Patterns of suspended and salp-ingested microplastic debris in the North Pacific investigated with epifluorescence microscopy

November 2019 - What is known and unknown about the effects of plastic pollution: A meta-analysis and systematic review

November 2019 - An affordable methodology for quantifying waterborne microplastics - an emerging contaminant in inland-waters

July 2019 - Tiny magnetic coils could help break down microplastic pollution

July 2019 - Tiny plastic debris is accumulating far beneath the ocean surface

June 2019 - The vertical distribution and biological transport of marine microplastics across the epipelagic and mesopelagic water column

June 2019 - Human Consumption of Microplastics

May 2019 - Plastic leachates impair growth and oxygen production in Prochlorococcus, the ocean’s most abundant photosynthetic bacteria

May 2019 - Plastic & Climate The Hidden Costs of a Plastic Planet

February 2019 - Citizen science sampling programs as a technique for monitoring microplastic pollution: results, lessons learned and recommendations for working with volunteers for monitoring plastic pollution in freshwater ecosystems

August 2018 - Production of methane and ethylene from plastic in the environment

July 2018 - Not all marine fish eat plastics

April 2018 - Scientific note: first global report of a bee nest built only with plastic

April 2018 - Arctic sea ice is an important temporal sink and means of transport for microplastic

April 2018 - Microplastics research - from sink to source
Microplastics everywhere
From the paper:
"Microplastics were first reported in freshwater lakes in 2013 (4). Since then, microplastics have been reported on freshwater beaches, in lakes, or in rivers in Africa, Europe, Asia, North America, and South America (5). Just like in the marine realm, microplastics are common in freshwater systems at a global scale. Although contamination tends to be greater near large population centers, microplastics—often in the form of microfibers—have also been found in remote locations (6), perhaps as a result of atmospheric deposition (7). Microplastic concentrations in freshwater ecosystems are highly variable, and even though these systems are less dilute than oceans, concentrations reported thus far appear to be in a range similar to those in the marine environment (5). Microplastic contamination, as seen in marine animals, has also been reported in freshwater animals, including insects, worms, clams, fish, and birds."

April 2018 - Organic fertilizer as a vehicle for the entry of microplastic into the environment
From the paper:
"Plastics are an integral part of everyday life. They fulfill a wide variety of functions, primarily packaging (39.9% of the total plastics used in Europe in 2016) (1). Additional applications are in building and construction; the electrical, electronic, automotive, and agriculture sectors; and, to a lesser extent, consumer and household appliances, furniture, sport, health, and safety (1). Despite its varied applications, approximately 80% of the produced plastic falls into six categories: polyethylene (PE), polypropylene (PP), polyvinyl chloride (PVC), polyurethane (PUR), PE terephthalate (PET), and polystyrene (PS). Worldwide plastic production has increased steadily since 1950, reaching an annual production of 322 million metric tons worldwide in 2015, of which approximately 40% was used in one-way products"

March 2018 - Microplastics in rivers
"To what extent are Germany's rivers contaminated by microplastics? A new study provides some specific clues for the first time. Between 2014 and 2017, a research group gathered and analyzed water samples from 22 rivers, mainly in the catchment area of the Rhein and Donau rivers. The new findings now represent one of the world's largest data sets from standardized studies on the appearance of plastic particles in rivers. "

January 2018 - Freshwater Microplastics - Emerging Environmental Contaminants? (309 pages)
Historically – if one can say that given the infancy of the field – environmental plastic debris has been the baby of marine research. Driven by the rediscovery of long forgotten, 1970s studies on the occurrence of small plastic fragments (today termed microplastics) in the oceans, oceanographers and marine biologists resurrected the topic in the early 2000s. Since then, the field has rapidly expanded and established that plastics are ubiquitous in the marine system, from the Arctic to Antarctic and from the surface to the deep sea.

While obviously the sources of environmental plastics are land-based, much less research has been dedicated to investigating them in freshwater systems. At the time of writing this book, less than four percent of publications had a freshwater context, reflecting the idea that streams, rivers, and lakes are mere transport routes transferring plastics to the oceans similar to a sewer. Because this is too simplistic, this book is dedicated to the in-between. Our authors explore the state of the science, including the major advances and challenges, with regard to the sources, fate, abundance, and impacts of microplastics on freshwater ecosystems. Despite the many gaps in our knowledge, we highlight that microplastics are pollutants of emerging concern independent of the salinity of the surrounding medium.

July 2017 - Microplastic: What Are the Solutions?

February 2017 - Primary Microplastics in the Oceans: a Global Evaluation of Sources(46 page PDF)

2016 - Microplastics and microfibers in the sludge of a municipal wastewater treatment plant

December 2016 - Marine Microplastic and Nanoplastic Litter in Nova Scotia: Confronting the Rising Tides of Plastics in our Marine Waters, Coastlines and Organisms

June 2016 - Plastic debris and policy: Using current scientific understanding to invoke positive change

June 2015 - The Economics of Marine Litter

June 2015 - Regulation and Management of Marine Litter

October 2014 - Global research priorities to mitigate plastic pollution impacts on marine wildlife

July 2014 - Microplastics lodge in crab gills and guts

December 2013 - Microplastic pollution in the surface waters of the Laurentian Great Lakes

April 2013 - Puny plastic particles mar Lake Erie’s waters

Types of Plastic
The Science of Plastic Pollution
Media Items on Plastic Pollution
Some Interesting Approaches
Things That Don't Work
Things That Do Work
De-plasticizing the Ocean (2017 RESTCo 3-pager)
Removing microplastic from shoreline/beach (demo)
RESTCo Plastic Pollution Solution
Capturing Micro- and Nano-plastics from the Waste Stream
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