Plastic pollution is accumulating rapidly in the world’s oceans. The potential effects of microplastics on the environment and human health are an area of active research. This POSTnote summarises their sources and spread, the evidence that they present a risk and possible strategies to reduce plastic pollution.

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Microplastics

Key points in this POSTnote include:

  • Microplastics, plastic pieces under 5 mm in size, are a widespread ocean contaminant.
  • Sources of microplastic include fibres from synthetic textiles, microbeads from cosmetic and industrial applications and large items of plastic debris that break down into smaller pieces.
  • Studies have shown the presence of microplastics in seafood. The potential risk to human health is little studied and remains uncertain.

Acknowledgements

POSTnotes are based on literature reviews and interviews with a range of stakeholders and are externally peer reviewed. POST would like to thank interviewees and peer reviewers for kindly giving up their time during the preparation of this briefing, including:

  • Professor Richard Thompson, Plymouth University*
  • Professor Tamara Galloway, University of Exeter*
  • Dr Matthew Cole, University of Exeter
  • Dr Kayleigh Wyles, Plymouth Marine Laboratory*
  • Dr Pennie Lindeque, Plymouth Marine Laboratory*
  • Dr James Clark, Plymouth Marine Laboratory*
  • Dr Chelsea Rochman, University of California, Davis*
  • Dr Lucy Woodall, Natural History Museum*
  • Dr Eric van Sebille, Imperial College London*
  • Thomas Stanton, University of Nottingham*
  • Dr Sue Kinsey, Marine Conservation Society*
  • Adrian Whyle, Plastics Europe*
  • Helen Jordan, British Plastics Federation*
  • Francisco Morcillo, British Plastics Federation*
  • Emma Priestland, Seas at Risk
  • Elizabeth Whitebread, Greenpeace
  • Patrick Mahon, the Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP)*
  • Dr Thomas Maes, Centre for the Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (Cefas)
  • Dr Tarquin Dorrington, Marine Program Manager, Defra*
  • Dr Tristan Ibrahim, Policy Advisor, Defra*

*Denotes people who acted as external reviewers of the briefing.

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