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Spatial–Temporal Growth, Distribution, and Diffusion of Marine Microplastic Research and National Plastic Policies

Abstract

Plastics account for 80% of material waste in the ocean. The field of marine microplastic (MP) research is relatively new and growing rapidly, in terms of published papers as well as institutions and countries conducting research. To combat plastic pollution, there is sufficient evidence that policies can lead to reduced plastic production and consumption both locally and globally. We aim to understand how marine MP research and national plastic policies have individually grown and spread. Specifically, we used scientometric and spatial diffusion methods to best explain how ideas (science and policy) clustered and spread geographically through time. We performed systematic literature searches to determine the spatial and temporal growth of marine MP publications and national plastic policies from 1900–2019. We found that more countries adopted national plastic policies than those that have conducted marine MP research. At each level of analysis (publication, institution, and country levels) within each field (research and policy), the temporal growth rate had a break point where doubling time changed significantly. Marine MP research grew exponentially, where doubling times ranged 1.1–3.7 years and the topics of inquiry increased steadily. National plastic policies also grew exponentially, where doubling times ranged 3.3–4.1 years. Different diffusion methods explain spatial growth, where marine MP research spread was best explained by a hybrid of expansion and relocation diffusion while national plastic policy spread was best explained by expansion diffusion. Both marine MP research and national plastic policies continue to spread, increasing global knowledge and mitigation efforts of plastic pollution.

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Data Availability

The datasets generated during and/or analyzed during the current study will be available in the Dryad repository upon acceptance.

Code Availability

The code generated during the current study is available from the corresponding author on reasonable request.

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Acknowledgements

This research was supported by the WRF Hall Endowment for Graduate Student Excellence in Biology and the Hahn Writing Fellowship from the UW Dept. of Biology to L. Harris, a UW Office of Research Bridge Funding award to E. Carrington, and a Frye-Hotson-Rigg Research Award to J. Fennell. We thank Anthony Abruzzini, Wasfia Hoque, and Claire Hutchinson for data collection assistance, members of the Carrington Laboratory for helpful discussions, and Craig Thomas, Scott Allard, David Layton, and David Suarez at the UW Evan’s School of Public Policy for feedback. We thank Lisa Harris, Ava Galbraith, and Judith Treistman for their support, especially during the pandemic.

Funding

Partial financial support was received from the Department of Biology and the Office of Research Bridge Funding at University of Washington.

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Lyda Harris: Conceptualization, methodology, formal analysis, investigation, resources, data curation, writing—original draft, writing—review and editing, visualization, supervision, funding acquisition. Jackson Fennell: Investigation, formal analysis, resources, data curation, writing—original draft, writing—review and editing. Robin Fales: Formal analysis, data curation, writing—review and editing. Emily Carrington: Validation, resources, writing—review and editing, supervision, funding acquisition.

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Correspondence to Lyda S. T. Harris.

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Harris, L.S.T., Fennell, J., Fales, R.J. et al. Spatial–Temporal Growth, Distribution, and Diffusion of Marine Microplastic Research and National Plastic Policies. Water Air Soil Pollut 232, 400 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11270-021-05352-4

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Keywords

  • Scientometric
  • Scopus
  • Hot spot
  • Pollution
  • Debris