|Microplastics in the marine environment: sources, consequences and solutions|Thompson, R.C. (2015). Microplastics in the marine environment: sources, consequences and solutions, in: Bergmann, M. et al. (Ed.) Marine anthropogenic litter. pp. 185-200. hdl.handle.net/10.1007/978-3-319-16510-3_7
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Microplastics are small fragments of plastic debris that have accumulated in the environment on a global scale. They originate from the direct release of particles of plastic and as a consequence of the fragmentation of larger items. Microplastics are widespread in marine habitats from the poles to the equator; from the sea surface and shoreline to the deep sea. They are ingested by a range of organisms including commercially important fish and shellfish and in some populations the incidence of ingestion is extensive. Laboratory studies indicate that ingestion could cause harmful toxicological and/or physical effects. However, our understanding of the relative importance of these effects in natural populations is very limited. Looking to the future it seems inevitable that the quantity of microplastic will increase in the environment, since even if we could stop new items of debris entering the ocean, fragmentation of the items already present would continue for years to come. The term microplastics has only been in popular usage for a decade and while many questions remain about the extent to which they could have harmful effects, the solutions to reducing this contamination are at hand. There are considerable synergies to be achieved by designing plastic items for both their lifetime in service and their efficient end-of-life recyclability, since capturing waste via recycling will reduce usage of non-renewable oil and gas used in the production of new plastics and at the same time reduce the accumulation of waste in managed facilities such as land fill as well as in the natural environment.