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      Addressing the importance of microplastic particles as vectors for long-range transport of chemical contaminants: perspective in relation to prioritizing research and regulatory actions

      Microplastics and Nanoplastics

      Springer Science and Business Media LLC

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          Abstract

          Over the last several years there has been increasing concern regarding the environmental fate and potential global transport of plastic debris, particularly in the form of microplastic particles (MPs). The global transport of MPs has also triggered concerns regarding the potential role that its mobility may represent towards influencing the long-range environmental transport (LRET) of particle-bound chemicals, particularly the large number of chemicals known to be added to plastic. This perspective considers the various lines-of-evidence that might be used towards understanding the LRET of persistent organic pollutants (POPs). For instance, it has been proposed that the LRET of POPs is facilitated by global fractionation processes that facilitate the mobility of chemicals from source regions towards remote locations, such as the polar regions, where they have the potential to accumulate. These processes are influenced by the physicochemical properties of POPs and can result in various transport mechanisms influencing environmental fate and transport. Here I suggest that there are similarities that can be drawn, whereby knowledge of how differences in the physicochemical properties of MPs relative to different emission scenarios, can influence the relative importance of sequestration processes that may result in global fractionation of MPs. Several challenges are identified throughout the perspective, with an urgent need towards the development and application of standard sampling and analytical methods being identified as critical for enabling datasets to be reliably compared for use in better understanding potential source-receptor relationships, as well as advancing the characterization and quantification of various environmental fate processes. In many instances, it is suggested that advances in our understanding can be facilitated based on knowledge obtained in other areas of research, such as in relation to studies developing tools to evaluate the mobility of particulate organic matter in aqueous environments or from studies investigating the fate and mobility of atmospheric particulates. Recognizing that not all MPs are equal, with respect to environmental fate and toxicological effects, knowledge regarding which types of MPs are likely to be subject to LRET can only strengthen our ability to evaluate their role as vectors of transport for plastic associated chemicals and the associated risks that their LRET may represent. Nevertheless, several outstanding issues remain that would benefit from constructive discussions between all stakeholders. It is anticipated that this perspective can play a role in initiating those discussions.

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          Most cited references137

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          Production, use, and fate of all plastics ever made

          We present the first ever global account of the production, use, and end-of-life fate of all plastics ever made by humankind.
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            Marine pollution. Plastic waste inputs from land into the ocean.

            Plastic debris in the marine environment is widely documented, but the quantity of plastic entering the ocean from waste generated on land is unknown. By linking worldwide data on solid waste, population density, and economic status, we estimated the mass of land-based plastic waste entering the ocean. We calculate that 275 million metric tons (MT) of plastic waste was generated in 192 coastal countries in 2010, with 4.8 to 12.7 million MT entering the ocean. Population size and the quality of waste management systems largely determine which countries contribute the greatest mass of uncaptured waste available to become plastic marine debris. Without waste management infrastructure improvements, the cumulative quantity of plastic waste available to enter the ocean from land is predicted to increase by an order of magnitude by 2025.
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              Accumulation and fragmentation of plastic debris in global environments.

              One of the most ubiquitous and long-lasting recent changes to the surface of our planet is the accumulation and fragmentation of plastics. Within just a few decades since mass production of plastic products commenced in the 1950s, plastic debris has accumulated in terrestrial environments, in the open ocean, on shorelines of even the most remote islands and in the deep sea. Annual clean-up operations, costing millions of pounds sterling, are now organized in many countries and on every continent. Here we document global plastics production and the accumulation of plastic waste. While plastics typically constitute approximately 10 per cent of discarded waste, they represent a much greater proportion of the debris accumulating on shorelines. Mega- and macro-plastics have accumulated in the highest densities in the Northern Hemisphere, adjacent to urban centres, in enclosed seas and at water convergences (fronts). We report lower densities on remote island shores, on the continental shelf seabed and the lowest densities (but still a documented presence) in the deep sea and Southern Ocean. The longevity of plastic is estimated to be hundreds to thousands of years, but is likely to be far longer in deep sea and non-surface polar environments. Plastic debris poses considerable threat by choking and starving wildlife, distributing non-native and potentially harmful organisms, absorbing toxic chemicals and degrading to micro-plastics that may subsequently be ingested. Well-established annual surveys on coasts and at sea have shown that trends in mega- and macro-plastic accumulation rates are no longer uniformly increasing: rather stable, increasing and decreasing trends have all been reported. The average size of plastic particles in the environment seems to be decreasing, and the abundance and global distribution of micro-plastic fragments have increased over the last few decades. However, the environmental consequences of such microscopic debris are still poorly understood.
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                Author and article information

                Contributors
                Journal
                Microplastics and Nanoplastics
                Micropl.&Nanopl.
                Springer Science and Business Media LLC
                2662-4966
                December 2021
                August 30 2021
                December 2021
                : 1
                : 1
                Article
                10.1186/s43591-021-00016-w
                60221324-b942-44ff-8826-49afe54d2284
                © 2021

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