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Microplastics: An introduction to environmental transport processes

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Microplastic pollution is widespread across the globe, pervading land, water, and air. These environments are commonly considered independently, however, in reality these are closely linked. This review gives an overview of the background knowledge surrounding sources, fate and transport of microplastics within the environment. We introduce a new “Plastic Cycle” concept in order to better understand the processes influencing flux and retention of microplastics between and across the wide range of environmental matrices. As microplastics are a pervasive, persistent and potentially harmful pollutant, an understanding of these processes will allow for assessment of exposure to better determine the likely long‐term ecological and human health implications of microplastic pollution. WIREs Water 2018, 5:e1268. doi: 10.1002/wat2.1268 This article is categorized under: Engineering Water > Water, Health, and Sanitation Science of Water > Water and Environmental Change Water and Life > Stresses and Pressures on Ecosystems
Images of different types of plastic particles (a) pellets/nurdles, (b) fibres, and (c) fragments. Scale bars are approximate
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Conceptual model representing the “Plastic Cycle” concept (wastewater treatment, WWT). Orange boxes represent sinks, blue boxes represent transport mechanisms and arrows represent transport pathways. Atmospheric microplastics are not included within the model as they cannot be attributed to a specific compartment or route of transport
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Images of plastic pollution across a range of environments: (a) terrestrial, (b) riverine, (c) marine, and (d) coastal. Any large items can degrade to form secondary microplastics. Image attributions (a) PDPics on Pixabay CC‐0, (b) BiH via Wikimedia commons CC BY‐SA 3.0, (c) Ben Mierement, NOAA NOS CC‐0, and (d) Michael Dorausch on Flickr CC BY‐SA 2.0
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Water and Life > Stresses and Pressures on Ecosystems
Science of Water > Water and Environmental Change
Engineering Water > Water, Health, and Sanitation

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