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Plastic pollution in the environment is currently receiving worldwide attention. Improper dumping of disused or abandoned plastic wastes leads to contamination of the environment. Contamination by bulk plastics and plastic debris is currently the one of the most serious problems in aquatic ecosystems. In particular, small-scale plastic debris such as microplastics and nanoplastics has become a leading contributor to the pollution of marine and freshwater ecosystems. Over 300 million tons of plastic is produced annually, and around 75% of all marine litter is plastic. Plastic litter is widespread in aquatic ecosystems and comes from a variety of sources. The abundance of plastics, combined with their small size and subsequent association with plankton in the water column, allows for direct ingestion by aquatic biota at different trophic levels.
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Chapter 5
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-9452-9.ch005
Plastic pollution in the environment is currently receiving worldwide attention. Improper dumping of
disused or abandoned plastic wastes leads to contamination of the environment. Contamination by
bulk plastics and plastic debris is currently the one of the most serious problems in aquatic ecosystems.
In particular, small-scale plastic debris such as microplastics and nanoplastics has become a leading
contributor to the pollution of marine and freshwater ecosystems. Over 300 million tons of plastic is
produced annually, and around 75% of all marine litter is plastic. Plastic litter is widespread in aquatic
ecosystems and comes from a variety of sources. The abundance of plastics, combined with their small
size and subsequent association with plankton in the water column, allows for direct ingestion by aquatic
biota at different trophic levels.
Plastics are ubiquitous materials and find applications in all parts of our life and economy. They are
lightweight (energy saving) and low cost, and exhibit unique and versatile properties. They find use
in agriculture, aviation, railways, telecommunication, building construction, electrical, electronics,
Plastic Pollution and the
Ecological Impact on the
Aquatic Ecosystem
Irfan Rashid Sofi
Jiwaji University, India
Javid Manzoor
Jiwaji University, India
Rayees Ahmad Bhat
Government Adarsh Science College, India
Rafiya Munvar
Jiwaji University, India
Plastic Pollution and the Ecological Impact on the Aquatic Ecosystem
medicine and health, automotive, packaging, thermal insulation, household, furniture, toys, and oth-
ers. The usage of plastic packaging’s and products has increased multifold in the last one decade due
to its low price and convenience. However, general public is not aware of its impact on the human and
environment on littering or dumping. In India, approximately 12 million tonnes plastic products are
consumed every year (2012), which is expected to rise further. It is also known that about 50 to 60% of
its consumption is converted into waste. Main usage of plastics is in the form of carry bags, packaging
films, wrappingmaterials, fluid containers, clothing, toys, household applications, industrial products,
engineering applications, building materials, etc. It is true that conventional (petro-based) plastic waste
is non-biodegradable and remains on landscape for several years polluting the environment. It is also
well established that all types of plastic wastes cannot be recycled and therefore, it gets accumulated in
open drains, low-lying areas, river banks, coastal areas, sea beaches, etc. Further, recycling of a virgin
plastic product can be done 3 to 4 times only by mixing with virgin plastics granules. Therefore, after
every recycling, its tensile strength and quality of plastic product gets deteriorated. Besides, recycled
plastic materials are more harmful to the health and environment than the virgin products due to mixing
of color, additives, stabilizers, flame retardants, etc.
By 2014 the top three global producers of plastics were China, Europe and North America at 26%, 20%
and 19%, respectively.337 Five countries accounted for 63.9% of the total European demand for plastics:
Germany (24.9%), Italy (14.3%), France (9.6%), the United Kingdom (7.7%) and Spain (7.4%).337 The
plastics in most demand worldwide were polyethylene and polypropylene, and the packaging industry
was by far the biggest consumer of these materials. By 2015 the worldwide consumption of plastic
materials was almost 300 million tonnes.
The presence of small plastic pieces in the oceans was first noted by scientists in the early1970s (Car-
penter et al., 1972). Since that time, many scientists have studied the potential problems associated with
what we now term “microplastics.” Microplastic debris in aquatic ecosystems is currently considered
one of the most important global pollution problems of our time.
The majority of synthetic plastics polluting the aquatic environment include polyethyleneterephthal-
ate (PET), low- and high-density polyethylene (PE), polypropylene (PP), polyvinyl chloride (PVC), and
polystyrene (PS). Microplastics are categorized as primary or secondary and then further classified as
fragments, pellets, fibers, film, or foam for further study. The term “microplastic” generally refers to
plastic particles that are<5 mm, with the term “nanoplastic” being used to describe a plastic particle
that is<1 μm in at least one of its dimensions (da Costa et al., 2016).
Primary microplastics are those plastic particles intentionally manufactured in sizes<5 mm for use
in personal care products or industrial applications, such as blasting scrubbers. Plastic microbeads have
become common components in consumer products such as toothpastes, body washes, and facial cleans-
ers. As such, they frequently flush into municipal wastewater treatment facilities (Fendall and Sewell,
2009). While wastewater treatment processes remove much of this material, a certain portion bypasses
the treatment process to be discharged into the aquatic environment (Carr et al., 2016;Talvitie et al.,
2015). Mason et al. (2016a) estimate that an average of 13 billion microbeads is released each day into
waterways of the United States alone.
Secondary microplastics are the degraded fragments of larger plastic debris that have made their
way into the environment. In the environment, plastic items degrade through photo-oxidative path-
ways (Singh and Sharma, 2008) that make the plastic brittle enough to break into pieces that become
increasingly smaller over time. The formation of secondary microplastics from plastic debris depends
upon a number of exposure factors including ultraviolet exposure, oxygen concentrations, temperature,
Plastic Pollution and the Ecological Impact on the Aquatic Ecosystem
mechanical forces, biofouling, and the size and shape of the debris pieces (Andrady, 2011). In a recent
study, Weinstein et al.(2016) demonstrated that microplastic production from strips of polyethylene,
polypropylene, and polystyrene placed in an open estuary can begin in as little as 8 weeks, producing
both fragments and fibers.
It has even been shown that isopod crustaceans (Sphaeroma quoianum) can add secondary microplas-
tic fragments to marine waters by boring into polystyrene floats under docks (Davidson, 2012). Other
contributors to microplastic pollution are plastic fibers. Plastic fibers come fromthe degradation of larger
debris (Weinstein et al., 2016), from the breakdown of geotextile liners (Wiewel and Lamoree, 2016),
or from household washing of synthetic textiles (Napper and Thompson, 2016). In the case of synthetic
textiles, microplastic fibers are discharged in wash water and then, like microbeads, make their way
into municipal wastewater treatment facilities where some fibers are ultimately released at the outfall
(Browne et al., 2011). Agricultural application of sewage sludge also serves as an additional source of
microplastic fiber pollution through runoff into the watershed (Zubris and Richards, 2005).
There are many published studies that measure the presence of microplastic pollutants in water and
sediments around the world and the result of these analyses vary in specific numbers, all agree that
microplastics have become a problem of great concern because of the enormous volume of these ma-
terials in the world’s oceans, lakes, and rivers. The global nature of the predicament is further evident
in the fact that microplastics have even been found in the atmospheric fallout (Dris et al., 2016), arctic
waters and sea ice (Tekman et al., 2017), the waters of remote lakes (Zhang et al., 2016), and the guts
of organisms collected from deep-sea sediments (Taylor et al., 2016). The ubiquitous presence of these
materials leads to many questions related to how these particles affect aquatic organisms at individual
and population levels.
In aquatic ecosystems, microplastics can be found in the sediments, floating on the surface, and sus-
pended throughout the water column, thus leading to numerous pathways of potential problems for
aquatic organisms and populations. The plastics themselves cause direct physical or nutritional problems
when ingested, and these problems may be exacerbated by the presence of plasticizers in the particles
themselves or by the presence of other toxic pollutants that have adhered to the surface. There are also
some indications that microplastics can affect primary producers at the base of aquatic food webs. The
abundance of microplastics, combined with their small size and close proximity to plankton in the water
column, allows for direct ingestion by aquatic biota at different trophic levels. Microplastic ingestion by
marine and estuarine organisms has been noted by many scientists over the years and from locations all
over the world. It has been reported by many researchers that microplastic is ingested by a long list of
marine organisms, including fish, seabirds, marine mammals, and a host of marine/estuarine inverte-
brates. While microplastic pollution in freshwater systems has drawn less attention than marine systems,
as we know that freshwater organisms are also exposed and that they also ingest microplastic pollutants.
Plastic Pollution and the Ecological Impact on the Aquatic Ecosystem
While many studies have reported microplastic ingestion by fish (Bellas et al., 2016; and also it has been
reported that physical damage happens to the fish (Peda et al., 2016). Tadpoles of Xenopustropicalis
were shown to accumulate and eliminate polystyrene microspheres with no negative effects (Hu et al.,
2016). Likewise, there have also been a number of investigations on invertebrates where ingestion was
observed, but no negative effects were reported. While ingestion did occur, there was no indication of
translocation into the tissues and no indication of physical harm. Imhof and Laforsch (2016) found that
microplastic exposure caused no morphological changes or developmental effects in mud snails (Potam-
poyrgusantipodarum) after exposing to irregular shaped microplastic particles in their food. Kaposi et
al. (2014) reported that the ingestion of microspheres by the larvae of sea urchins (Tripneustes gratilla)
caused no measurable dose-dependent effects. On the other hand, there are numerous publications
showing physical effects to some lower-trophic-level aquatic species. The initial concerns related to the
direct ingestion of nanosized and microplastic particles include physical damage to feeding structures
or digestive organs, accumulation within organisms, and translocation of the particles from the digestive
tract to other tissues.
It is entirely possible for higher organisms to be exposed to microplastics and contaminants purely as
a result of their diet. Indeed, it has been suggested that the exposure of seals to POPs is primarily via
ingestion of contaminated food sources, such as fish, and not as a result of their contact with the aquatic
environment. For example, in a study which examined the faeces of Antarctic fur seals on Macquarie
Island, Australia, it was revealed that microplastics were present in the faeces and 93% of the microplas-
tics were composed of polyethylene. Considering that the main diet of these fur seals was mesopelagic
fish, such as lantern fish, it is likely that the fish consumed the microplastics, after which they were then
consumed by the seals, as opposed to the seals directly consuming the microplastics.
In a study2010 which analysed samples of blubber taken from various grey seal pups in the Farne
Islands, United Kingdom between 1998 and 2000, polybrominateddiphenyl ethers (PBDEs), Polychlori-
nated biphenyls (PCBs) and organochloride pesticides (DDE and DDT) were found in the blubber. These
persistent organic pollutants (POPs) are passed from mother to pup in the womb and via milk following
birth. However, upon maturation, dietary habits, such as the ingestion of fish, become the predominant
exposure route to these pollutants.
While there are no reports thus far of sea otters ingesting plastics, it is expected that sea otter popula-
tions in the North Pacific will suffer increasingly detrimental effects from anthropogenic pollution of
the aquatic environment. Populations in California in the United States have exhibited the highest effects
from pollutants, suffering infectious diseases and increased morbidity and thus have been deemed as
threatened by the United States Endangered Species Act.18
Plastic Pollution and the Ecological Impact on the Aquatic Ecosystem
There have been several documented incidences of many species of whale ingesting plastic litter, such as
the killer whale, the beaked whale and the sperm whale. Furthermore, a dead sperm whale recovered from
the Mediterranean Sea was ascertained to have died as a result of a ruptured stomach, which contained
7.6 kg of plastic material. However, microplastics were directly identified for the first time in a cetacean
species during a study of True’s beaked whale carcasses discovered on the North and West coasts of
Ireland. In the carcass examined, the average size of the microplastics was reported to be 2.16 mm while
the greatest accumulation of microplastics (38%) was in the whale’s main stomach. Furthermore, the
main type of plastic recovered overall was rayon, which comprised 53% of the recovered microplastics.
This was significantly higher than other types of plastic and the next most abundant, polyester at 16%.
However, as the largest filter feeder in the ocean, baleen whales (such as the blue whale) were expected
to be exposed to large quantities of microplastics on a daily
Microplastics are ingested by fish, and the consumption of microplastics by fish can interfere with bio-
logical processes, such as the inhibition of gastrointestinal function, as well as causing blockages and
inducing feeding impairment.
The production of plastics has an associated greenhouse gas footprint, and the “per functional unit”
footprint may be less than that of alternatives. However, this is highly dependent on how the impacts of
the production are distributed across a product’s life cycle. The use of plastics has undeniable benefits
for humanity and the utility of these materials is reflected in both the speed at which they were adopted
and the vast range of applications in which they are now used. Their positive characteristics include the
fact that they are lightweight, easily moldable, as tough or flexible as desired, easy to color, transparent,
water resistant, and cheap to produce. The variety of ways in which these characteristics provide benefits
are broad; however, the focus here is on environmental implications. Perhaps counter-intuitively, the
use of plastic has been linked to improved environmental outcomes in certain applications, due to both
their properties and resource efficiency. A joint report by the American Chemical Council and Tru-
cost calculates that there would be greater environmental consequences (up to a 3.8 times increase for
consumer goods) if plastic materials were replaced with alternative materials (e.g., wood, glass, metal)
(Trucost 2013). This would mainly be due to the large increase in the volume and weight of materials
that would be associated with using the alternatives. A good example of this is the replacement of metal
with plastic for many vehicle parts, which reduces the weight of the vehicle and thus reduces fuel usage
for transport (Andrary 2009).
While the use phase of plastics can lead to environmental benefits, the major environmental burden
associated with plastics is in their end-of-life (EOL) phase. This has been neglected in many studies
because the burden is difficult to quantify through a conventional life-cycle assessment (Anderson,
2016). One of the major issues is plastic accumulation, which occurs due to the durability of plastics in
Plastic Pollution and the Ecological Impact on the Aquatic Ecosystem
landfill and the environment (and the large amount of waste which is mismanaged) (Bergmann, 2016).
The impacts of accumulation can be separated into two separate issues relating to plastics in landfills
and plastics as litter in the ocean. These will require different approaches to alleviate and are explored
further in the sections below.
The quantity of plastics in the marine environment is substantial but the exact amount and relative pro-
portions of different plastic types in the ocean remain largely unknown. This is due to a lack of reliable
information on the sources, originating sectors, and users (UNEP 2016). However, recently Jambeck
and Geyer attempted to model the inputs of plastic waste to the marine environments for 192 coastal
countries, considering plastic waste mismanagement and direct litter. Their results for the distribution of
plastic waste that is produced and mismanaged, by country. Population size and quality of waste man-
agement systems determine which countries contribute the greatest portion of plastics to marine litter,
with over 50% of the plastic waste entering the oceans predicted to originate in just five Southeast Asian
countries (Jambeck and Geyer 2016).Even their most conservative estimates predicted an input of 100
million tons of plastic waste to the oceans over the 15-year time period 2010-25, or around 1.5%-4.1%
of total plastic production entering the ocean per year. This input is predicted to increase by an order of
magnitude by 2025 and by 2050 there are reports that the oceans could contain more plastics than fish,
by weight. When discussing plastic accumulation in the oceans, there are two main groups of plastics
referred to: macroplastics (which are solid articles such as bags, packaging, cigarette lighters, etc.) and
microplastics. Microplastics are microscopic fragments of plastic debris and result from either direct
release of small plastic particles (plastic pellets andpowders), or the fragmentation of larger items (under
conditions of UV, heat, and physical action in the environment (Andrady 2009), or through everyday
usage such as clothes washing (Browne 2011, Hartlin 2016). Their presence has been documented from
the poles to the equator (Thompson 2015). Whilst Jambeck et al. (2015) considered macroplastics, in
regard to microplastics, it is estimated that in the United States alone 100 tons of microplastics directly
enter the oceans annually, mainly through wastewater streams. At least similar volumes would be ex-
pected from other developed nations.
Although, the measured volume may appear to be small compared to the scale of annual plastic
flows. Microplastics have the potential to be a significant issue as they affect animals (such as fish)
that are otherwise relatively unaffected by large plastic items and can accumulate up the food chain
(Thompson 2015). In regard to the types of products most likely to enter the oceans, typically 40% to
80% of marine waste items are plastic, and these items are often light-weight, single use, and can be
linked to the food industry (Barnes 2009).The plastics most commonly associated with litter include the
main polymer types as well as cellulose acetate, which, although having low production levels, is used
in cigarette filters that probably enter the oceans due to their abundance and small size. This highlights
the fact that light-weight, single-use materials need to be the targets when attempting to address ocean
litter. The main entry points for these plastics are wastewater discharge points, rivers, and coastal areas.
Other sources of marine plastics such as new agricultural products (e.g., polymer encapsulation for slow
release fertilizers) have been identified; however, their contribution to the problem is currently unknown.
Plastic Pollution and the Ecological Impact on the Aquatic Ecosystem
One of the most alarming concerns for the environment is the growing amount of plastic and other trash
in the world’s oceans and lakes. Trash is sometimes illegally or accidentally dumped directly into the
ocean, such as from ships and offshore platforms, but more often is carried by rivers and streams, washed
overland by stormwater runoff or via raw sewage overspills, or blown in by wind. Many developing
countries cannot afford wide-scale trash pickup and safe landfilling, and instead, they resort to open
dumping. Improper handling of waste occurs in all countries, however, and is a global problem. Mil-
lions of tons of plastics and other marine debris in the ocean get concentrated in giant gyres that swirl
in circular patterns created by winds and the Coriolis effect from the rotation of the earth. One such
gyre or giant vortex that accumulates trash is called the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. It stretches from
California to Japan in the gyre of the North Pacific Subtropical Convergence Zone. There are presently
five major garbage patches that are located in the North Pacific, South Pacific, North Atlantic, South
Atlantic, and Indian Oceans.
The marine debris will move in and out of these gyres, but the sea floors accumulate more garbage
below the middle of these gyres than elsewhere. Natural materials such as cotton can biodegrade rapidly,
but plastics can take possibly hundreds of years to completely break down. Sunlight and physical stressors
can break down plastic trash such as water bottles into pieces of plastic. Birds and fish mistakenly ingest
the plastic as food. In the most concentrated parts of these gyres, there is more plastic than biomass.
Pieces of plastic debris also adsorb other pollutants in the ocean, such as PCBs. Thus, when an organ-
ism ingests the plastic, it is also ingesting contaminants that have collected on the plastic. Plastics may
themselves contain toxins such as bisphenol A (an endocrine-disrupting chemical), phthalates, or vinyl
chloride, depending on the type of plastic. The most persistent and bioaccumulating of chemicals will
be transferred throughout the food chain. Humans should be very concerned because it is probable if
not likely that all fish contain some measure of these chemicals. When pieces of plastic break down into
particles of less than 1 mm in diameter, they are called microplastics. In addition to the microplastics
created from the decomposition of trash, microplastics enter the environment from sewage discharges
carrying personal care products. Tiny microplastic beads make good facial scrubs and have been used
in various cosmetics and toothpastes. But now the growing concern and awareness that marine biota
including zooplanktons ingest microplastics has led to a federal ban of microplastics in personal care
products in the United States, starting in 2017.
The ingestion of contaminated microplastics by aquatic organisms provides a viable route for the transfer
of toxic chemicals into the tissues of the organism, in which microplastics act as a vector for the transport
of sorbed contaminants and chemical additives into organisms. While the investigation of such phenom-
ena and the mechanisms by which this occurs is very much in its infancy, there has been a significant
garnering of evidence thus far. Certainly, microplastics can pick up waterborne chemical contaminants
during their time spent in polluted waters and can concentrate these contaminants up to 1 million times
greater than the surrounding water.
Plastic Pollution and the Ecological Impact on the Aquatic Ecosystem
However, the formation of a definitive link between the ingestion of contaminated microplastics and
the body condition of pelagic fish is still in its infancy and requires further research. Indeed, it has been
suggested that contaminated microplastics may not contribute significantly to the bioaccumulation of
contaminants and that the levels of microplastics shown to have adverse effects on organisms in the
laboratory are higher than microplastic concentrations measured in subtidal sediments, and similar to
the maximum concentrations measured in beach sediments. Furthermore, based on the utilization of
model analyses, it has been suggested that the bioaccumulation of persistent organic pollutants (POPs)
from the ingestion of contaminated plastics by organisms may be small due to the absence of a gradient
between POPs and the fatty tissues of the aquatic organisms, and that some mechanism of removing
POPs may take place.
However, many models do not take into account the role of gut surfactants in the desorption of these
contaminants, especially at different temperatures and pH. For example, in simulated physiological
conditions, the desorption of several common pollutants in the aquatic environment from contaminated
polyethylene microplastics (phenanthrene, DEHP, PFOA and DDT) was faster when gut surfactant was
present and was further increased at elevated temperatures typically present in warm-blooded aquatic
species. Furthermore, the desorption of contaminants from microplastics in the conditions typically found
in the gut may be up to 30 times greater than in the conditions typically found in seawater. Consequently,
pollutants desorbed from ingested microplastics become freely available to diffuse into the tissues of the
organisms. Indeed, the concentration of a chemical pollutants in an organism has been noted to increase,
the greater the ability of that pollutant to dissolve in fats, lipids and oils (lipophilicity). Since many
POPs are lipophilic, they tend bioaccumulate and readily distribute throughout the food web, ranging
from small planktonic species to large air-breathers, such as whales. Ultimately, the vast majority of
researchers concede that drastic worldwide action must be taken since many aquatic regions have high
levels of pollutants and global concentrations of microplastics in the aquatic environment are increasing.
Nanoplastics in the aquatic system are derived from primary and secondary particles. Primary particles
are intentionally manufactured to a fixed size whereas secondary particles arise from fragmentation
of larger matter. Industrial operations and human activities contribute to the distribution of secondary
particles, that is, plastic litter in freshwater and marine ecosystems. Human-originating sources include
solid waste disposal from land and individual vessels at sea and coastal landfill operations (Pruter, 1987).
Furthermore, accidental loss or spillage of plastics during transportation and manufacturing practices in
the plastics industry also contribute to the accumulation of secondary particles in aquatic environments
(Derraik, 2002; Mato et al., 2001). Microplastic and nanoplastic particles used in consumer products from
pharmaceutical and cosmetic industries (Lorenz et al., 2011) can reach the environment via wastewater or
during consumer use (Sharma and Chatterjee, 2017). Most microplastics are removed in the wastewater
treatment plants (Carr et al., 2016); however, not all particles are removed, and the plants may constitute
to a considerable source of microplastics (Talvitie et al., 2017). Ecologically induced processes, such as
tsunamis and storms, may also partially contribute to the widespread of plastic particles (Zettler et al.,
2013). It has been argued that the increase in the amount of primary particles in the aquatic environment
is caused by the recent expansion in the manufacturing and use of nanoparticles (Biswas and Wu, 2005)
and engineered nanoparticles released into the atmosphere inevitably end up in the aquatic environment
Plastic Pollution and the Ecological Impact on the Aquatic Ecosystem
or in soil (Nowack and Bucheli, 2007; Ryan et al., 2009;). Nanoplastic particles produced from research
and medical applications can also contribute as a source for nanoplastics in the environment. However,
a more pronounced amount can arise from cosmetic consumer products that can, for example, enter the
aquatic environment through the wastewater or during use. However, how small particles can escape
through the wastewater plants is not known since most studies in wastewater plants do not detect particles
with a size smaller than20 μm (Carr et al., 2016).
Biodegradable plastics are plastics that can be broken down into water, carbon monoxide, and some
biomaterials from microorganisms, such as fungi and bacteria. Some plastics are made from biomaterials
or materials made from biological and renewable resources such as grains, corn, potatoes, beet sugar,
sugar cane, or vegetable oils, but many biodegradable plastics are made from oil (PlasticsEurope, 2015).
Nonetheless, most plastics are thermoplastics which means that they can be remelted into the liquid
phase, and this type is generally considered non biodegradable (Plastics Europe, 2015). The degree of
biodegradability depends on the properties of the polymer and those of the biological environment. When
a product is defined as biodegradable, it is considered to be biodegradable under specific conditions,
such as when an industrial composter reaches a temperature of 70°C(UNEP, 2015). However, this is not
the case in aquatic environments where the temperature, UV exposure and microbial colonizations are
different to the preceding conditions (Moore, 2008).
In 2010, O’Brine and Thompson studied the degradation of four different plastic carrier bags in
the marine environment—two oxo-biodegradable polyethylene (PE) bags, one biodegradable bag of
polyester, and one standard PE bag produced from 33% of recycled materials. After 4 weeks of expo-
sure, they saw the formation of biofilms on the samples and a decrease in tensile strength. Moreover,
after 24 weeks, the compostable polyester was no longer detectable, whereas 98% of the other plastic
remained intact even after 40 weeks. Another study, made by Lambert and Wagner (2016), investigated
the degradation of 1cm pieces of polystyrene (PS) disposable coffee cup lids and found an increase in
the number of nanoparticles over time. In other words, larger plastics were degraded into nano sized
particles. The pieces were placed in a weathering chamber for 24h together with 20mL demineralized
water at 30°C and exposed to both visible and ultraviolet radiation. According to nanoparticle track-
ing analysis (NTA), the remaining plastic pieces had decreased in particle size and had unquantifiable
weights during the experiment.
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Effects of Plastic on Land: Chlorinated plastic can release harmful chemicals into the surrounding
soil, which can then seep into groundwater or other surrounding water sources and also the ecosystem
of the world. This can cause serious harm to the species that drink the water.
Macrodebris: Plastic debris is categorized as macrodebris when it is larger than 20 mm. These
include items such as plastic grocery bags. Macrodebris are often found in ocean waters, and can have
Plastic Pollution and the Ecological Impact on the Aquatic Ecosystem
a serious impact on the native organisms. Fishing nets have been prime pollutants. Even after they have
been abandoned, they continue to trap marine organisms and other plastic debris. Eventually, these
abandoned nets become too difficult to remove from the water because they become too heavy, having
grown in weight up to 6 tons.
Marine Debris: The term marine debris encompasses more than plastic, including metals (derelict
vessels, dumped vehicles, beverage containers), glass (light bulbs, beverage containers, older fishing
floats), and other materials (rubber, textiles, lumber). Plastic certainly makes up the majority of float-
ing litter, but in some areas the debris on the ocean floor may contain sizeable amounts of those other
denser types.
Microdebris: Microdebrisare plastic pieces between 2 mm and 5 mm in size. Plastic debris that starts
off as meso- or macrodebris can become microdebris through degradation and collisions that break it
down into smaller pieces. Microdebris is more commonly referred to as nurdles. They often end up in
ocean waters through rivers and streams. Microdebris that come from cleaning and cosmetic products
are also referred to as scrubbers. Because microdebris and scrubbers are so small in size, filter-feeding
organisms often consume them.
Persistent Organic Pollutants: It was estimated that global production of plastics is approximately
250 mt/yr. Their abundance has been found to transport persistent organic pollutants, also known as
POPs. These pollutants have been linked to an increased distribution of algae associated with red tides.
Plastic: Plastic is versatile, lightweight, flexible, moisture resistant, strong, and relatively inexpen-
sive. Those are the attractive qualities that lead us, around the world, to such a voracious appetite and
over-consumption of plastic goods. However, durable and very slow to degrade, plastic materials that
are used in the production of so many products all, ultimately, become waste with staying power.
... When aquatic organisms ingest microplastics, they can cause POPs and chemicals' transfer, which are harmful to those organisms' metabolism. These compounds can increase the level of toxicity in aquatic organisms [33]. ...
Full-text available
The Citarum River is one of the most polluted rivers in the world because of the inadequate waste management system and community ignorance. Plastic is one of the contaminants in the Citarum watershed. In general, plastics less than 5 mm in size are defined as microplastics. Microplastics are persistent and harm the environment. This article aims to determine the potential for pollution and distribution of microplastics in freshwater systems, especially in the Citarum watershed area. Using a combination of literature study methods with Geographical Information Systems (GIS) analysis, this article explains that microplastic contamination has occurred along the Citarum watershed from upstream to downstream, found in water and sediment and fish samples. Facilitated by their small size and high stability in the environment, microplastics can move from the aquatic environment into the food chain and cause longterm damage. This case causes a severe threat to the quality of freshwater in the Citarum watershed. Therefore, this article can be used as a reference for managing pollution in the Citarum watershed area.
... Among the three waste materials, it was reported that plastic waste has produced over 300 million tons annually [22]. Remarkably, some scholars shifted to give much concern on ''plasticence" period, where people are too dependent on using plastic; therefore, re-use of the plastic waste has raised much attention and has been seen as a significant potential for saving the environment [23]. As of 2015, 6.3 billion tons of plastic waste has been produced worldwide; yet, only 9% of the total waste has been recycled [24]. ...
Recently, photovoltaic (PV) pavement has widely attracted attention as an alternative to provide renewable energy. Research which focuses on the mechanical properties of a PV pavement is still at an early stage of exploration. This study adopted two types of PV pavement unit block structure, namely grid unit block and hollow unit block based on previous literature. ABS was selected as the material of the unit block body, which is proven has strong mechanical properties and can be recycled. Effects of various factors on the mechanical properties of the unit blocks were analysed, including (i) structure length, (ii) structure width, (iii) thickness of bottom plate and (iv) thickness of grid or wall. Orthogonal test was used to obtain 16 sets of experiment for each unit block structure and numerical simulation was conducted by ABAQUS. The surface longitudinal deformation l s and the maximum tensile stress r m at the centre of the bottom of the light-transmitting plate are the main indexes for mechanical response analysis. Mean analysis was used to determine the optimal combination of the structural sizes, meanwhile multivariate analysis of variance was used to rank the significance of each factor. Results have demonstrated that the optimal size combinations for the two structures are: (i) for grid unit block structure À120 cm length  120 cm width  8 cm-thickness bottom plate  2 cm-thickness grid (ii) for hollow unit block structure À60 cm length  60 cm width  6 cm-thickness bottom plate  10 cm-thickness side walls. Meanwhile, the ranks significance of each factor are: (i) for grid unit block structure-plate thickness > grid thickness > width > length (ii) for hollow unit block structure-only width is significant to r m. The results also suggested that grid unit block structure for a PV pavement is better than hollow unit block structure.
Full-text available
Human populations are using oceans as their household dustbins, and microplastic is one of the components which are not only polluting shorelines but also freshwater bodies globally. Microplastics are generally referred to particles with a size lower than 5 mm. These microplastics are tiny plastic granules and used as scrubbers in cosmetics, hand cleansers, air-blasting. These contaminants are omnipresent within almost all marine environments at present. The durability of plastics makes it highly resistant to degradation and through indiscriminate disposal they enter in the aquatic environment. Today, it is an issue of increasing scientific concern because these microparticles due to their small size are easily accessible to a wide range of aquatic organisms and ultimately transferred along food web. The chronic biological effects in marine organisms results due to accumulation of microplastics in their cells and tissues. The potential hazardous effects on humans by alternate ingestion of microparticles can cause alteration in chromosomes which lead to infertility, obesity, and cancer. Because of the recent threat of microplastics to marine biota as well as on human health, it is important to control excessive use of plastic additives and to introduce certain legislations and policies to regulate the sources of plastic litter. By setup various plastic recycling process or promoting plastic awareness programmes through different social and information media, we will be able to clean our sea dustbin in future.
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The increased global production of plastics has been mirrored by greater accumulations of plastic litter in marine environments worldwide. Global plastic litter estimates based on field observations account only for 1% of the total volumes of plastic assumed to enter the marine ecosystem from land, raising again the question ‘Where is all the plastic? ’. Scant information exists on temporal trends on litter transport and litter accumulation on the deep seafloor. Here, we present the results of photographic time-series surveys indicating a strong increase in marine litter over the period of 2002–2014 at two stations of the HAUSGARTEN observatory in the Arctic (2500 m depth). Plastic accounted for the highest proportion (47%) of litter recorded at HAUSGARTEN for the whole study period. When the most southern station was considered separately, the proportion of plastic items was even higher (65%). Increasing quantities of small plastics raise concerns about fragmentation and future microplastic contamination. Analysis of litter types and sizes indicate temporal and spatial differences in the transport pathways to the deep sea for different categories of litter. Litter densities were positively correlated with the counts of ship entering harbour at Longyearbyen, the number of active fishing vessels and extent of summer sea ice. Sea ice may act as a transport vehicle for entrained litter, being released during periods of melting. The receding sea ice coverage associated with global change has opened hitherto largely inaccessible environments to humans and the impacts of tourism, industrial activities including shipping and fisheries, all of which are potential sources of marine litter.
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Plastic waste is a distinctive indicator of the world-wide impact of anthropogenic activities. Both macro- and micro-plastics are found in the ocean, but as yet little is known about their ultimate fate and their impact on marine ecosystems. In this study we present the first evidence that microplastics are already becoming integrated into deep-water organisms. By examining organisms that live on the deep-sea floor we show that plastic microfibres are ingested and internalised by members of at least three major phyla with different feeding mechanisms. These results demonstrate that, despite its remote location, the deep sea and its fragile habitats are already being exposed to human waste to the extent that diverse organisms are ingesting microplastics.
Full-text available
Microplastics have been increasingly detected and quantified in marine and freshwater environments, and there are growing concerns about potential effects in biota. A literature review was conducted to summarize the current state of knowledge of microplastics in Canadian aquatic environments; specifically, the sources, environmental fate, behaviour, abundance, and toxicological effects in aquatic organisms. While we found that research and publications on these topics have increased dramatically since 2010, relatively few studies have assessed the presence, fate, and effects of microplastics in Canadian water bodies. We suggest that efforts to determine aquatic receptors at greatest risk of detrimental effects due to microplastic exposure, and their associated contaminants, are particularly warranted. There is also a need to address the gaps identified, with a particular focus on the species and conditions found in Canadian aquatic systems. These gaps include characterization of the presence of microplastics in Canadian freshwater ecosystems, identifying key sources of microplastics to these systems, and evaluating the presence of microplastics in Arctic waters and biota.
Wastewater treatment plants (WWTPs) can offer a solution to reduce the point source input of microlitter and microplastics into the environment. To evaluate the contributing processes for microlitter removal, the removal of microlitter from wastewater during different treatment steps of mechanical, chemical and biological treatment (activated sludge) and biologically active filter (BAF) in a large (population equivalent 800 000) advanced WWTP was examined. Most of the microlitter was removed already during the pre-treatment and activated sludge treatment further decreased the microlitter concentration. The overall retention capacity of studied WWTP was over 99% and was achieved after secondary treatment. However, despite of the high removal performance, even an advanced WWTP may constitute a considerable source of microlitter and microplastics into the aquatic environment given the large volumes of effluent discharged constantly. The microlitter content of excess sludge, dried sludge and reject water were also examined. According to the balance analyses, approximately 20% of the microlitter removed from the process is recycled back with the reject water, whereas 80% of the microlitter is contained in the dried sludge. The study also looked at easy microlitter sampling protocol with automated composite samplers for possible future monitoring purposes.
Synthetic textiles can shed numerous microfibers during conventional washing, but evaluating environmental consequences as well as source-control strategies requires understanding mass releases. Polyester apparel accounts for a large proportion of the polyester market, and synthetic jackets represent the broadest range in apparel construction, allowing for potential changes in manufacturing as a mitigation measure to reduce microfiber release during laundering. Here, detergent-free washing experiments were conducted and replicated in both front- and top-load conventional home machines for five new and mechanically-aged jackets or sweaters: four from one name-brand clothing manufacturer (three majority polyester fleece, and one nylon shell with non-woven polyester insulation) and one off-brand (100% polyester fleece). Wash water was filtered to recover two size fractions (>333 μm and between 20 and 333 μm); filters were then imaged and microfiber masses were calculated. Across all treatments, the recovered microfiber mass per garment ranged from approximately 0 to 2 grams, or exceeding 0.3% of the unwashed garment mass. Microfiber masses from top-load machines were approximately 7 times those from front-load machines; garments mechanically aged via 24-hour continuous wash had increased mass release under the same wash protocol as new garments. When comparing to published wastewater treatment plant influent characterization and microfiber removal studies, washing synthetic jackets or sweaters as per this study would account for most microfibers entering the environment.
Washing clothes made from synthetic materials has been identified as a potentially important source of microscopic fibres to the environment. This study examined the release of fibres from polyester, polyester-cotton blend and acrylic fabrics. These fabrics were laundered under various conditions of temperature, detergent and conditioner. Fibres from waste effluent were examined and the mass, abundance and fibre size compared between treatments. Average fibre size ranged between 11.9 and 17.7 μm in diameter, and 5.0 and 7.8 mm in length. Polyester-cotton fabric consistently shed significantly fewer fibres than either polyester or acrylic. However, fibre release varied according to wash treatment with various complex interactions. We estimate over 700,000 fibres could be released from an average 6 kg wash load of acrylic fabric. As fibres have been reported in effluent from sewage treatment plants, our data indicates fibres released by washing of clothing could be an important source of microplastics to aquatic habitats.
Microplastic has been ubiquitously detected in freshwater ecosystems. A variety of freshwater organisms were shown to ingest microplastic, while a high potential for adverse effects of plastic particles to organisms are expected. However, studies addressing the effect of microplastic in freshwater species are still scarce compared to studies on marine organisms. In order to gain further insight into possible adverse effects of microplastics on freshwater invertebrates and to set the base for further experiments we exposed the mud snail (Potampoyrgus antipodarum) to a large range of common and environmentally relevant non-buoyant polymers (polyamide, polyethylene terephthalate, polycarbonate, polystyrene, polyvinylchloride). The impact of these polymers was tested by performing two exposure experiments with irregular shaped microplastic particles with a broad size distribution in a low (30%) and a high microplastic dose (70%) in the food. First, possible effects on adult P. antipodarum were assessed by morphological and life-history parameters. Second, the effect of the same mixture on the development of juvenile P. antipodarum until maturity was analyzed. Adult P. antipodarum showed no morphological changes after the exposure to the microplastic particles, even if supplied in a high dose. Moreover, although P. antipodarum is an established model organism and reacts especially sensitive to endocrine active substances no effects on embryogenesis were detected. Similarly, the juvenile development until maturity was not affected. Considering, that most studies showing effects on marine and freshwater invertebrates mostly exposed their experimental organisms to very small (≤20 μm) polystyrene microbeads, we anticipate that these effects may be highly dependent on the chemical composition of the polymer itself and the size and shape of the particles. Therefore, more studies are necessary to enable the identification of harmful synthetic polymers as some of them may be problematic and should be declared as hazardous whereas others may have relatively moderate or no effects. Exposure to a mixture of microplastic particles with irregular shape and a broad size distribution from five non-buoyant polymers had no effect on morphology, embryogenesis, life history and juvenile development of Potamopyrgus antipo-darum.
During the summer of 2013, a total of 59 surface water samples were collected across Lake Michigan making it the best surveyed for pelagic plastics of all the Laurentian Great Lakes. Consistent with other studies within the Great Lakes, Mantra-trawl samples were dominated by particles less than 1 mm in size. Enumeration of collected plastics under a microscope found fragments to be the most common anthropogenic particle type, followed by fibers, with more minor contributions from pellets, films and foams. The majority of these pelagic plastic particles were found to be polyethylene, with polypropylene being the second most common polymeric type, which is consistent with manufacturing trends and beach survey results. The pelagic plastic was found to be fairly evenly distributed across the entire Lake Michigan surface, despite the formation of a seasonal gyre at the southern end of the lake. We found that an average plastic abundance of ~ 17,000 particles/km2, which when multiplied by the total surface area, gives on the order of 1 billion plastic particles floating on the surface of Lake Michigan. As the majority of these particles are extremely small, less than 1 mm in size, which allows for easy ingestion, these results highlight the need for additional studies with regard to the possible impacts upon aquatic organisms.