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Ghosh, S.; Sinha, J.K.; Ghosh, S.; Vashisth, K.; Han, S.; Bhaskar, R. Microplastics on the Environment. Encyclopedia. Available online: (accessed on 21 April 2024).
Ghosh S, Sinha JK, Ghosh S, Vashisth K, Han S, Bhaskar R. Microplastics on the Environment. Encyclopedia. Available at: Accessed April 21, 2024.
Ghosh, Shampa, Jitendra Kumar Sinha, Soumya Ghosh, Kshitij Vashisth, Sungsoo Han, Rakesh Bhaskar. "Microplastics on the Environment" Encyclopedia, (accessed April 21, 2024).
Ghosh, S., Sinha, J.K., Ghosh, S., Vashisth, K., Han, S., & Bhaskar, R. (2023, July 19). Microplastics on the Environment. In Encyclopedia.
Ghosh, Shampa, et al. "Microplastics on the Environment." Encyclopedia. Web. 19 July, 2023.
Microplastics on the Environment

There has been mounting concern about the bearing of microplastics on human health and the comprehensive natural environment. These particles come from a variety of sources, such as soaps, personal care products, and the rundown of bigger plastic items. The impacts of microplastics on marine life and other ecosystems are substantial, including ingestion by marine animals, interference with their reproductive systems, and even death. The economic implications of microplastics are also significant, with industries, such as fishing and tourism being affected by the presence of microplastics in the environment.

microbeads microfibers public health biohazards

1. Introduction

In the last decade, microplastics have become a major environmental and health concern worldwide. They are small plastic particles that come from various sources, such as discarded plastics, textiles, and personal care products including face wash and soaps. These particles are so tiny that they can route through water filtration techniques and easily become pervasive in our environment [1].
These tiny particles can have a significant impact on marine life [2][3]. Marine animals, such as fish, sea turtles, and seabirds, mistake microplastics for food, which causes serious harm to their lives or death [4][5]. Plastics that accumulate on beaches undergo weathering degradation, which causes surface embrittlement and microcracking, resulting in the formation of microparticles. These particles can be carried into the water by wind or waves. One of the major concerns with microplastics is that they tend to attract and concentrate persistent organic pollutants from the surrounding water due to partition, in contrast to inorganic fines present in seawater [6][7][8]. This accumulation of pollutants on the surface of microplastics can pose a significant threat to marine ecosystems and the health of organisms that ingest them [7]. Microplastics can also interfere with the reproductive systems of marine animals, leading to a decline in population numbers.
Microplastics have truly emerged as a significant environmental concern due to their widespread distribution and persistent nature. These minuscule particles, originating from various sources including plastics fragmentation and degradation, pose significant negative impacts on ecosystems. When microplastics enter aquatic environments, they can be consumed by a diverse variety of creatures, including plankton, and marine mammals, such as fish, leading to adverse effects on their physiology and behavior [5][9]. Microplastics can cause physical harm, such as internal blockages and tissue damage, as well as chemical harm by acting as carriers of pollutants and toxins. Furthermore, microplastics can disrupt food webs, alter nutrient cycling, and contribute to the decline of biodiversity [10][11][12]. The detrimental consequences of microplastic pollution highlight the urgent need for effective mitigation strategies to safeguard the health and resilience of ecosystems.
Microplastics are a major environmental concern due to their potential impact on marine ecosystems (Figure 1). Studies have shown that these tiny plastic particles can interfere with the reproductive systems of marine animals, leading to a decline in population numbers [13][14]. Microplastics can act as endocrine disruptors, altering hormonal signaling pathways that are essential for the proper functioning of reproductive systems. They can also cause physical damage to reproductive tissues, such as the ovaries and testes, through their abrasive nature. In addition, microplastics can be ingested by marine organisms, causing blockages in their digestive tracts, malnutrition, and ultimately, death. The reproductive health of marine animals is critical to maintaining the biodiversity and balance of marine ecosystems, and the impact of microplastics on this aspect of animal physiology represents a significant hazard to the well-being of these systems. Therefore, there is a pressing requirement to foster effective strategies for preventing and reducing the release of microplastics into the environment.
Figure 1. Microplastics generation, transportation and ingestion in the environment effecting the whole ecosystem. Various processes that are part of our daily life contribute to microplastic leaching due to littering and erroneous disposal systems. These microplastics can assimilate inside various forms of food items at different levels of food chain and get consumed by animals or humans. Microplastic leaching can be contributed by various forms of plastic fragmentation, that might be from degradation of plastic debris, industrial effluents, paint tubs, road markings, tire dust, and also from our face wash and toothpastes.
Furthermore, microplastics can also have an impact on human health [15][16][17]. Studies have found that microplastics can enter our body through food, water, and even the air we breathe. Research has found microplastics in tap water, bottled water, seafood, and air [15]. Once microplastics enter our body, they trigger inflammation, which can lead to various health issues [18]. They can also release toxic chemicals into the body, leading to a range of health problems, including cancer [19], reproductive problems, and developmental issues [20]. Moreover, microplastics have also been found to contribute to the growth of antibiotic resistance [14][21]. This is because microplastics can serve as a proliferation field for bacteria, which can become resistant to antibiotics over time. This could have serious implications for human health, as antibiotic resistance is already a major global health concern.

2. Background Information on Microplastics

The small particles of plastic, known as microplastics, usually under 5 mm of size, have become a substantial environmental and health concern in recent years. They can be found in various environments, including the ocean, freshwater bodies, soil, and even in the air we breathe [13][22]. One of the most common sources of microplastics is discarded plastic products, such as bags, bottles, and packaging materials. When these plastics break down, they release small particles that can end up in the soil and water. Additionally, microplastics can also come from synthetic fibers in clothing that shed during washing and drying processes [23].
Microplastics are generated by the fragmentation, weathering, and degradation of the larger plastic objects, as well as through the release of synthetic fibers from textiles and other sources. Microplastics are prevalent in various environments, including ocean, freshwater bodies, soil, and air. Their effects on ecosystems and human health are a growing concern. There are two primary types of microplastics: primary and secondary. Primary microplastics are deliberately produced to be small, such as the microbeads used in cosmetics and personal care commodities, while secondary microplastics are materialized by the rundown of bigger plastic articles. Secondary microplastics are the most common type of microplastics found in the environment [24].
There are diverse sources of microplastics ranging from large industrial products to everyday household items (Figure 1). Some of the most common sources of microplastics include:
  1. Textiles: Synthetic fabrics, such as nylon, acrylic, and polyester, shed microfibers when they are washed, leading to the release of microplastics into the environment [25][26][27][28][29][30].
  2. Synthetic paints and tire dust: Multiple sources of synthetic polymers (including paints, abrasion of aquaculture gears, tire dust, and discarded fishing equipment and ropes) after wear and tear produces the highest level of microplastics in oceans [31]. The erosion and chafing of the road markings also significantly impact microplastic pollution [32].
  3. Plastics in the ocean: Plastic debris makes up a substantial source for generation of microplastics in the ocean [33]. This includes substances, such as bottles and bags made of plastic, and wrapping provisions that break down over time due to sunlight exposure and additional environmental factors [34].
  4. Personal care products: Microbeads, which are tiny plastic beads used in exfoliating scrubs, toothpaste, and other products used for personal care [24], can enter the environment via treatment plants for wastewater and transpire in marine as well as freshwater ecosystems.
  5. Industrial products: Many industrial products, such as plastic pellets used in the manufacture of plastic products, are also a source of microplastics [34][35].

3. Impacts of Microplastics on the Environment

Microplastics have significant impacts on marine life and other ecosystems, from the smallest organisms to larger marine animals. Microplastics are mistaken for food by marine animals, leading to ingestion and accumulation in their bodies. This causes physical harm to marine life, including blockages in the digestive tract and damage to internal organs. Additionally, ingesting microplastics also causes malnutrition by filling up the stomachs of marine animals without providing any nutritional value. These microplastics also interfere with the reproductive systems of marine animals, leading to a decline in population numbers. Studies also show that microplastics can disturb the behavior and physiology of marine animals, such as reducing their swimming ability and increasing their susceptibility to predators [36][37][38].
In addition to marine life, microplastics can also have adverse effects on other ecosystems. Microplastics in soil are known to alter the soil properties by reducing water retention and affecting nutrient cycling [39][40]. In freshwater ecosystems, microplastics can disrupt the food web and negatively impact the health of aquatic organisms. Additionally, microplastics can also pose a threat to human health, as they can enter the food chain and potentially cause harm to those who consume contaminated seafood or water [23][41]. Microplastics may also have adverse effects on air quality [42], although more research is needed in this area. Predominantly, the effects of microplastics on oceanic life and other ecologies are becoming more severe, and more efforts are required to moderate the discharge of microplastics into the ecosystem and to develop effective strategies for their removal.
Dismally, the microplastics’ presence in marine environments has significant economic implications on industries, such as fish catching and tourism. The microplastics are able to accumulate in the tissues of fish and shellfish, leading to a reduction in their quality and market value [41][43][44]. The existence of microplastics in seafood can also result in consumer concerns about food safety [41][45], which can further affect the economic viability of the fishing industry. In addition to the fishing industry, tourism can also be impacted by microplastics. Coastal tourism relies heavily on the natural beauty and health of marine ecosystems, and the presence of microplastics can detract from the overall aesthetic and ecological value of these areas [6][46]. Beaches contaminated with microplastics can deter tourists and reduce the revenue generated by tourism in affected areas. There is an urgent need for more efforts to reduce the impact of microplastics on these industries and the environment as a whole. For example, initiatives to reduce plastic waste and improve waste management practices can help to avert the discharge of microplastics into the environment. Additionally, technologies for removing microplastics from water are being developed, which could help to mitigate the economic impact of microplastic contamination. The economic implications of microplastics on industries, such as fishing and tourism are significant and this highlights the importance of addressing this issue in a comprehensive and proactive manner.


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