Special Issue "Plastic Contamination: Challenges and Solutions"

A special issue of Environments (ISSN 2076-3298).

Deadline for manuscript submissions: 31 December 2021.

Special Issue Editors

Dr. Joana C. Prata
E-Mail Website
Guest Editor
Centre for Environmental and Marine Studies (CESAM) & Department of Chemistry, University of Aveiro, 3810-193 Aveiro, Portugal
Interests: plastics; nanoplastics; microplastics; one health; veterinary medicine

Special Issue Information

Dear Colleagues,

Plastics are popular synthetic materials due to their advantageous properties, such as low density and high durability, which have led to their increased use in multiple applications. Either in larger or smaller sizes, known as microplastics and nanoplastics, plastics are continuously released to the environment, where they accumulate due to their resistance to degradation. For this reason, plastics now contaminate virtually every ecosystem on the planet, being considered a marker for the Anthropocene. The accumulation of plastics in the environment can have negative effects on organisms and ecosystems directly through toxicity, or indirectly through habitat changes. Most of this contamination originates from an unsustainable use and management of plastics, from production to consumption and disposal, which needs to be restructured in the context of a circular economy.

This Special Issue invites novel contributions in the form of critical reviews and research papers to address all aspects of plastics, such as: (i) strategies or technologies to improve the production, use, and waste management of plastics; (ii) analytical methods for the assessment of micro/nanoplastics; (iii) concentrations and characteristics of micro/nanoplastics in the environment; (iv) ecotoxicological or abiotic effects of micro/nanoplastics; (v) the role of micro/nanoplastics as vectors of contaminants and pathogens. This Special Issue also welcomes contributions regarding changes in plastics policies, consumption, incorrect disposal, and waste management during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Dr. Teresa A. P. Rocha-Santos
Dr. Joana C. Prata
Guest Editors

Manuscript Submission Information

Manuscripts should be submitted online at www.mdpi.com by registering and logging in to this website. Once you are registered, click here to go to the submission form. Manuscripts can be submitted until the deadline. All papers will be peer-reviewed. Accepted papers will be published continuously in the journal (as soon as accepted) and will be listed together on the special issue website. Research articles, review articles as well as short communications are invited. For planned papers, a title and short abstract (about 100 words) can be sent to the Editorial Office for announcement on this website.

Submitted manuscripts should not have been published previously, nor be under consideration for publication elsewhere (except conference proceedings papers). All manuscripts are thoroughly refereed through a single-blind peer-review process. A guide for authors and other relevant information for submission of manuscripts is available on the Instructions for Authors page. Environments is an international peer-reviewed open access monthly journal published by MDPI.

Please visit the Instructions for Authors page before submitting a manuscript. The Article Processing Charge (APC) for publication in this open access journal is 1400 CHF (Swiss Francs). Submitted papers should be well formatted and use good English. Authors may use MDPI's English editing service prior to publication or during author revisions.

Keywords

  • plastics
  • plastic pollution
  • microplastics
  • nanoplastics
  • waste management
  • mitigation strategies
  • ecotoxicology
  • human health

Published Papers (9 papers)

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Research

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Article
Polystyrene Nanoplastic Behavior and Toxicity on Crustacean Daphnia magna: Media Composition, Size, and Surface Charge Effects
Environments 2021, 8(10), 101; https://0-doi-org.brum.beds.ac.uk/10.3390/environments8100101 - 28 Sep 2021
Viewed by 483
Abstract
Concerns about the possible ecotoxicological implications of nano-sized plastic materials in the freshwater environment are growing with the increasing use of plastic materials. The present study focuses on the behavior and effects of amidine-functionalized polystyrene (NPLs) of 20, 40, 60, and 100-nm-size in [...] Read more.
Concerns about the possible ecotoxicological implications of nano-sized plastic materials in the freshwater environment are growing with the increasing use of plastic materials. The present study focuses on the behavior and effects of amidine-functionalized polystyrene (NPLs) of 20, 40, 60, and 100-nm-size in freshwaters and different synthetic media. Daphnia magna was exposed to increasing concentrations from 0.5 to 30 mg/L (and from 0.5 to 100 mg/L for 100-nm-sized NPLs). The results revealed no significant aggregation in ultra-pure water, culture media, and synthetic water. In the presence of natural organic matter, NPLs of 20 and 40 nm displayed better stability in both freshwater and synthetic media, whereas a significant aggregation of 60 and 100 nm PS NPLs was found. All the studied PS NPLs with size between 20 and 100 nm exhibited acute toxicity to D. magna. The observed 48-h immobilization strongly depended on the primary size of PS NPLs, with 20 and 40-nm-size PS NPLs inducing a stronger effect in both freshwaters and synthetic media. Water quality variables such as pH, cation and anion composition, and DOC were of secondary importance. The results of the present study confirmed the toxicity of NPLs of different sizes to crustaceans in natural freshwater and synthetic media and demonstrated the importance of the primary size of NPLs in the behavior and effects of NPLs. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Plastic Contamination: Challenges and Solutions)
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Article
Prioritizing Suitable Quality Assurance and Control Standards to Reduce Laboratory Airborne Microfibre Contamination in Sediment Samples
Environments 2021, 8(9), 89; https://0-doi-org.brum.beds.ac.uk/10.3390/environments8090089 - 03 Sep 2021
Cited by 1 | Viewed by 455
Abstract
The ubiquity and distribution of microplastics, particularly microfibres, in outdoor and indoor environments makes it challenging when assessing and controlling background contamination, as atmospheric particles can be unintentionally introduced into a sample during laboratory analysis. As such, an intra-laboratory examination and literature review [...] Read more.
The ubiquity and distribution of microplastics, particularly microfibres, in outdoor and indoor environments makes it challenging when assessing and controlling background contamination, as atmospheric particles can be unintentionally introduced into a sample during laboratory analysis. As such, an intra-laboratory examination and literature review was completed to quantify background contamination in sediment samples, in addition to comparing reported quality assurance and control (QA/QC) protocols in 50 studies examining microplastics in sediment from 2010 to 2021. The intra-lab analysis prioritizes negative controls, placing procedural blanks in various working labs designed to prepare, process, and microscopically analyse microplastics in sediment. All four labs are subject to microfibre contamination; however, following the addition of alternative clean-air devices (microscope enclosure and HEPA air purifiers), contamination decreased by 66% in laboratory B, and 70% in laboratory C. A review of microplastic studies suggests that 82% are not including or reporting alternative clean-air devices in their QA/QC approaches. These studies are found to be at greater risk of secondary contamination, as 72% of them ranked as medium to high contamination risk. It is imperative that laboratories incorporate matrix-specific QA/QC approaches to minimize false positives and improve transparency and harmonization across studies. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Plastic Contamination: Challenges and Solutions)
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Article
Single-Use Plastic Bans: Exploring Stakeholder Perspectives on Best Practices for Reducing Plastic Pollution
Environments 2021, 8(8), 81; https://0-doi-org.brum.beds.ac.uk/10.3390/environments8080081 - 16 Aug 2021
Viewed by 1309
Abstract
In this study, we conducted and documented workshops and interviews in Norway and Slovenia to identify stakeholder and future generation opinions and mitigation strategies for solving one of the most prominent environmental issues: plastic pollution. As part of the EU H2020 project GoJelly [...] Read more.
In this study, we conducted and documented workshops and interviews in Norway and Slovenia to identify stakeholder and future generation opinions and mitigation strategies for solving one of the most prominent environmental issues: plastic pollution. As part of the EU H2020 project GoJelly, stakeholders were brought together to explore their perceptions on considering jellyfish mucus as a new resource to contribute to reducing plastic pollution from entering the marine environment. The study was conducted in the spring of 2019, in a context directly after the European Union (EU) announced its Directive to ban the most commonly used single-use plastic (SUP) items. The study applied the snowball method as a methodological choice to identify relevant stakeholders. Systems thinking was utilized as a participatory modelling approach, which allowed for the creation of conceptual mind maps from the various workshops and interviews, to understand consumers’ consciousness, and to map out ideas on plastic pollution reduction. Plastic pollution takes place on a global scale and stakeholders discussed their individual perceptions of national and international solutions that could be put in place to solve it, including the opportunities around utilizing jellyfish mucus to filter and capture micro- and nanoplastic. We found that industry stakeholders in both case areas were generally more accepting of policy and increased innovation moving forward, but placed weight on the scientific community to conduct more research on the pollution issue and propose solutions. Future generation stakeholders (youth aged 14–18), however, put emphasis on consumer behavior and buying patterns of single-use products fueling the plastic crisis. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Plastic Contamination: Challenges and Solutions)
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Article
Microplastic and Organic Fibres in Feeding, Growth and Mortality of Gammarus pulex
Environments 2021, 8(8), 74; https://doi.org/10.3390/environments8080074 - 03 Aug 2021
Viewed by 668
Abstract
Microplastic fibres (MPFs) are a major source of microplastic pollution, most are released during domestic washing of synthetic clothing. Organic microfibres (OMF) are also released into the environment by the same means, with cotton and wool being the most common in the UK. [...] Read more.
Microplastic fibres (MPFs) are a major source of microplastic pollution, most are released during domestic washing of synthetic clothing. Organic microfibres (OMF) are also released into the environment by the same means, with cotton and wool being the most common in the UK. There is little empirical evidence to demonstrate that plastic fibres are more harmful than organic fibres if ingested by freshwater animals such as Gammarus pulex. Using our method of feeding Gammarus MPFs embedded in algal wafers, we compared the ingestion, feeding behaviour and growth of Gammarus exposed to 70 µm sheep wool, 20 µm cotton, 30 µm acrylic wool, and 50 µm or 100 µm human hair, and 30 µm cat hair at a concentration of 3% fibre by mass. Gammarus would not ingest wafers containing human hair, or sheep wool fibres. Given the choice between control wafers and those contaminated with MPF, cat hair or cotton, Gammarus spent less time feeding on MPF but there was no difference in the time spent feeding on OMFs compared to the control. Given a choice between contaminated wafers, Gammarus preferred the OMF to the MPF. There were no significant differences in growth or mortality among any of the treatments. These results conclude that MPFs are less likely to be ingested by Gammarus if alternative food is available and are not more harmful than OMFs. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Plastic Contamination: Challenges and Solutions)
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Article
Solvent-Based Elimination of Organic Matter from Marine-Collected Plastics
Environments 2021, 8(7), 68; https://0-doi-org.brum.beds.ac.uk/10.3390/environments8070068 - 20 Jul 2021
Viewed by 894
Abstract
The physical-chemical characterization of plastic litter from the marine environment requires the prior removal of the biofouling attached to their surface without causing any degradation in the polymer. The absence of a standardized protocol for digesting biofouling and organic matter of both macro [...] Read more.
The physical-chemical characterization of plastic litter from the marine environment requires the prior removal of the biofouling attached to their surface without causing any degradation in the polymer. The absence of a standardized protocol for digesting biofouling and organic matter of both macro and microplastic samples extracted from seawater has been the main motivation for this research work, which aims to evaluate the effectiveness of different solvents (hydrogen peroxide, ethanol, a commercial enzymatic detergent, and potassium hydroxide) for the digestion of organic matter and biofouling in different samples recovered from the Spanish Atlantic and Mediterranean coast. Moreover, the potential effect of those solvents on the physical-chemical structure of polymers, four virgin plastic reference materials (low-density polyethylene, polyamide, poly(ethylene terephthalate) and polystyrene) without any type of prior degradation has been characterized in terms of Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy (FTIR) and optical microscopy. Results indicate that the hydrogen peroxide at 15% concentration applied for one week at 40 °C is the most effective solvent for organic matter and biofouling removal, without causing any apparent damage on the structure of plastic samples analyzed. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Plastic Contamination: Challenges and Solutions)
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Article
Case Study Comparing Effects of Microplastic Derived from Bottle Caps Collected in Two Cities on Triticum aestivum (Wheat)
Environments 2021, 8(7), 64; https://0-doi-org.brum.beds.ac.uk/10.3390/environments8070064 - 06 Jul 2021
Viewed by 1046
Abstract
As plastic has become an integral component of daily life, microplastic has become a ubiquitous, unavoidable constituent of nearly all ecosystems. Besides monitoring the amount and distribution of microplastic in the environment, it is necessary to understand the possible direct effects, especially toxicity [...] Read more.
As plastic has become an integral component of daily life, microplastic has become a ubiquitous, unavoidable constituent of nearly all ecosystems. Besides monitoring the amount and distribution of microplastic in the environment, it is necessary to understand the possible direct effects, especially toxicity and how it is affected by environmental factors where it is discarded. The present study investigated how microplastic derived from high-density polyethylene bottle caps collected in two climatically different cities, i.e., Singapore (tropical rainforest climate) and Lahti, Finland (continental climate), affected the essential agricultural grain crop, Triticum aestivum (L.). Wheat seedlings were exposed to microplastic derived from these collected bottle caps, as well as new and artificially aged caps, for seven days. Morphological parameters, such as root and shoot length and oxidative stress development, were measured. Exposure to microplastic derived from the caps resulted in reduced seedling root and shoot lengths compared to the controls, as well as enhanced lipid peroxidation and catalase activity. With all parameters tested, microplastic derived from Lahti bottle caps exhibited more severe effects than Singapore, which was similar to that elicited by new microplastic. The Singapore microplastic had possibly leached its toxic substances before collection due to accelerated degradation promoted by the prevailing warmer climate conditions. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Plastic Contamination: Challenges and Solutions)
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Article
Assessing the Conversion of Various Nylon Polymers in the Hydrothermal Liquefaction of Macroalgae
Environments 2021, 8(4), 34; https://0-doi-org.brum.beds.ac.uk/10.3390/environments8040034 - 15 Apr 2021
Viewed by 1186
Abstract
Marine macroalgae offers a promising third generation feedstock for the production of fuels and chemicals, avoiding competition with conventional agriculture and potentially helping to improve eutrophication in seas and oceans. However, an increasing amount of plastic is distributed into the oceans, and as [...] Read more.
Marine macroalgae offers a promising third generation feedstock for the production of fuels and chemicals, avoiding competition with conventional agriculture and potentially helping to improve eutrophication in seas and oceans. However, an increasing amount of plastic is distributed into the oceans, and as such contaminating macroalgal beds. One of the major plastic contaminants is nylon 6 derived from discarded fishing gear, though an increasing amount of alternative nylon polymers, derived from fabrics, are also observed. This study aimed to assess the effect of these nylon contaminants on the hydrothermal liquefaction of Fucus serratus. The hydrothermal liquefaction (HTL) of macroalgae was undertaken at 350 °C for 10 min, with a range of nylon polymers (nylon 6, nylon 6/6, nylon 12 and nylon 6/12), in the blend of 5, 20 and 50 wt.% nylon to biomass; 17 wt.% biocrude was achieved from a 50% blend of nylon 6 with F. serratus. In addition, nylon 6 completely broke down in the system producing the monomer caprolactam. The suitability of converting fishing gear was further demonstrated by conversion of actual fishing line (nylon 6) with the macroalgae, producing an array of products. The alternative nylon polymer blends were less reactive, with only 54% of the nylon 6/6 breaking down under the HTL conditions, forming cyclopentanone which distributed into the biocrude phase. Nylon 6/12 and nylon 12 were even less reactive, and only traces of the monomer cyclododecanone were observed in the biocrude phase. This study demonstrates that while nylon 6 derived from fishing gear can be effectively integrated into a macroalgal biorefinery, alternative nylon polymers from other sectors are too stable to be converted under these conditions and present a real challenge to a macroalgal biorefinery. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Plastic Contamination: Challenges and Solutions)
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Communication
Microplastics Contamination versus Inorganic Particles: Effects on the Dynamics of Marine Dissolved Organic Matter
Environments 2021, 8(3), 21; https://0-doi-org.brum.beds.ac.uk/10.3390/environments8030021 - 06 Mar 2021
Viewed by 1728
Abstract
Microplastic contamination has been linked to a range of impacts on aquatic environments. One important area that is only beginning to be addressed is the effect of microplastics on marine carbon cycling and how these compare to the effects related to inorganic particles [...] Read more.
Microplastic contamination has been linked to a range of impacts on aquatic environments. One important area that is only beginning to be addressed is the effect of microplastics on marine carbon cycling and how these compare to the effects related to inorganic particles typically present in ocean waters. The present study explores these impacts on dissolved organic matter dynamics by comparing three scenarios: a particle-free environment, a particle-enriched system with polystyrene microplastics, and a particle-enriched system with inorganic particles (water insoluble SiO2). Natural marine organic matter was obtained by culturing a non-axenic strain of Chaetoceros socialis in 2 L flasks under each of three scenarios. Following the diatom growth phase, filtered samples from the three flasks containing dissolved organic matter and bacteria were incubated separately in the dark for 5 days to monitor changes in dissolved organic matter. Chromophoric dissolved organic matter (CDOM), a bulk optical property, was monitored daily to examine changes in its quality and quantity and to compare degradation dynamics in the three systems. CDOM absorbance (quantity) remained higher in the control with respect to particle-enriched systems, suggesting that the presence of particles led to different rates of CDOM production and degradation. Using indicators for CDOM that could be related to microbial activity, results showed a higher CDOM alteration in the particle-enriched systems. These results indicate that microplastics have a potential role in modifying marine organic matter dynamics, on a similar magnitude to that of biogenic inorganic particles. Given their increasing concentrations of marine ecosystems, their role in marine microbial processing of organic matter needs to be better understood. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Plastic Contamination: Challenges and Solutions)
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Review

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Review
Disposable over Reusable Face Masks: Public Safety or Environmental Disaster?
Environments 2021, 8(4), 31; https://0-doi-org.brum.beds.ac.uk/10.3390/environments8040031 - 13 Apr 2021
Cited by 3 | Viewed by 2209
Abstract
Many governments have imposed the public use of face masks and they are now moving towards enforcing disposable masks to abate COVID-19 transmission. While disposable masks consistently provide higher protection, they also carry multiple environmental burdens, from greenhouse gases released during production to [...] Read more.
Many governments have imposed the public use of face masks and they are now moving towards enforcing disposable masks to abate COVID-19 transmission. While disposable masks consistently provide higher protection, they also carry multiple environmental burdens, from greenhouse gases released during production to the landfilling and littering. Conversely, reusable masks’ protection can vary from >90% certified industrial masks, similar to disposable masks, to dubious homemade or artisanal masks. This work discusses the protection provided by different masks, their impact on the environment, and new proposals combining concerns about public health and sustainability. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Plastic Contamination: Challenges and Solutions)
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