Plastic waste in the marine environment: A review of sources, occurrence and effects
W.C. LI ⁎, H.F. TSE, L. FOK
Department of Science and Environmental Studies, The Hong Kong Institute of Education, Hong Kong
H I G H L I G H T S
• The annual production of plastic has increased 200-fold from the 1950s to 2014
• Macroplastics and microplastics pose a risk to organisms
• Microplastics can lead to absorption of hydrophobic contaminants
• Recommendations are made to minimise plastic pollution in the environment
a r t i c l e i n f o a b s t r a c t
Received 17 February 2016
Received in revised form 12 May 2016
Accepted 13 May 2016
Available online 24 May 2016
Editor: D. Barcelo
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.
© 2016 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.