Plastic waste in the marine environment: A review of sources, occurrence and effects

Sci Total Environ. 2016 Oct 1:566-567:333-349. doi: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2016.05.084. Epub 2016 May 24.


This review article summarises the sources, occurrence, fate and effects of plastic waste in the marine environment. Due to its resistance to degradation, most plastic debris will persist in the environment for centuries and may be transported far from its source, including great distances out to sea. Land- and ocean-based sources are the major sources of plastic entering the environment, with domestic, industrial and fishing activities being the most important contributors. Ocean gyres are particular hotspots of plastic waste accumulation. Both macroplastics and microplastics pose a risk to organisms in the natural environment, for example, through ingestion or entanglement in the plastic. Many studies have investigated the potential uptake of hydrophobic contaminants, which can then bioaccumulate in the food chain, from plastic waste by organisms. To address the issue of plastic pollution in the marine environment, governments should first play an active role in addressing the issue of plastic waste by introducing legislation to control the sources of plastic debris and the use of plastic additives. In addition, plastics industries should take responsibility for the end-of-life of their products by introducing plastic recycling or upgrading programmes.

Keywords: Entanglement; Macroplastics; Microplastics; Plastic ingestion.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Environmental Monitoring
  • Plastics / analysis*
  • Seawater / analysis*
  • Waste Products / analysis*
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical / analysis*


  • Plastics
  • Waste Products
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical