The present and future of microplastic pollution in the marine environment

Environ Pollut. 2014 Feb;185:352-64. doi: 10.1016/j.envpol.2013.10.036. Epub 2013 Nov 23.


Recently, research examining the occurrence of microplastics in the marine environment has substantially increased. Field and laboratory work regularly provide new evidence on the fate of microplastic debris. This debris has been observed within every marine habitat. In this study, at least 101 peer-reviewed papers investigating microplastic pollution were critically analysed (Supplementary material). Microplastics are commonly studied in relation to (1) plankton samples, (2) sandy and muddy sediments, (3) vertebrate and invertebrate ingestion, and (4) chemical pollutant interactions. All of the marine organism groups are at an eminent risk of interacting with microplastics according to the available literature. Dozens of works on other relevant issues (i.e., polymer decay at sea, new sampling and laboratory methods, emerging sources, externalities) were also analysed and discussed. This paper provides the first in-depth exploration of the effects of microplastics on the marine environment and biota. The number of scientific publications will increase in response to present and projected plastic uses and discard patterns. Therefore, new themes and important approaches for future work are proposed.

Keywords: Coastal environments; Literature review; Marine debris; POPs; Priority pollutants; Risk to marine life.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aquatic Organisms
  • Biota
  • Ecosystem
  • Environmental Monitoring*
  • Oceans and Seas
  • Plastics / analysis*
  • Waste Products / analysis*
  • Waste Products / statistics & numerical data
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical / analysis*
  • Water Pollution, Chemical / statistics & numerical data


  • Plastics
  • Waste Products
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical