Skip to main content

Microplastics pollution and reduction strategies


Microplastic particles smaller than 5 mm in size are of increasing concern, especially in aquatic environments, such as the ocean. Primary source is microbeads (<1 mm) used in cosmetics and cleaning agents and fiber fragments from washing of clothes, and secondary source such as broken down plastic litter and debris. These particles are mostly made from polyethylene (PE), polypropylene (PP), polystyrene (PS), polyethylene terephthalate (PET) and polyesters. They are ingested by diverse marine fauna, including zooplanktons, mussel, oyster, shrimp, fish etc. and can enter human food chains via several pathways. Strategy for control of microplastics pollution should primarily focus on source reduction and subsequently on the development of cost-effective clean up and remediation technologies. Recent research results on biodegradation of plastics have revealed a potential for microbial biodegradation and bioremediation of plastic pollutants, such as PE, PS and PET under appropriate conditions.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.


  1. 1.

    Jambeck J R, Geyer R, Wilcox C, Siegler T R, Perryman M, Andrady A, Narayan R, Law K L. Plastic waste inputs from land into the ocean. Science, 2015, 347(6223): 768–771

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  2. 2.

    Cµzar A, Echevarría F, González-Gordillo J I, Irigoien X, Úbeda B, Hernández-León S, Palma Á T, Navarro S, García-de-Lomas J, Ruiz A, Fernández-de-Puelles M L, Duarte C M. Plastic debris in the open ocean. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 2014, 111(28): 10239–10244

    Article  Google Scholar 

  3. 3.

    Cole M, Lindeque P, Halsband C, Galloway T S. Microplastics as contaminants in the marine environment: a review. Marine Pollution Bulletin, 2011, 62(12): 2588–2597

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  4. 4.

    Zhao S, Zhu L, Wang T, Li D. Suspended microplastics in the surface water of the Yangtze Estuary System, China: first observations on occurrence, distribution. Marine Pollution Bulletin, 2014, 86(1-2): 562–568

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  5. 5.

    Fendall L S, Sewell M A. Contributing to marine pollution by washing your face: microplastics in facial cleansers. Marine Pollution Bulletin, 2009, 58(8): 1225–1228

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  6. 6.

    Andrady A L. Microplastics in the marine environment. Marine Pollution Bulletin, 2011, 62(8): 1596–1605

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  7. 7.

    Tokiwa Y, Calabia B P, Ugwu C U, Aiba S. Biodegradability of plastics. International Journal of Molecular Sciences, 2009, 10(9): 3722–3742

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  8. 8.

    Yang J, Yang Y, Wu W M, Zhao J, Jiang L. Evidence of polyethylene biodegradation by bacterial strains from the guts of plastic-eating waxworms. Environmental Science & Technology, 2014, 48(23): 13776–13784

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  9. 9.

    Yang Y, Yang J,WuWM, Zhao J, Song Y, Gao L, Yang R, Jiang L. Biodegradation and mineralization of polystyrene by plastic-eating mealworms: Part 2. Role of gut Microorganisms. Environmental Science & Technology, 2015, 49(20): 12087–12093

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  10. 10.

    Yoshida S, Hiraga K, Takehana T, Taniguchi I, Yamaji H, Maeda Y, Toyohara K, Miyamoto K, Kimura Y, Oda K. A bacterium that degrades and assimilates poly(ethylene terephthalate). Science, 2016, 351(6278): 1196–1199

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

Download references


The authors thank Ms. Andria T. Wu, DePaul University for figure preparation and Ms. Anja Malawi Brandon, Stanford University, for photograph. This work was supported by the Stanford Woods Institute for Environment (1197667-10-WTAZB).

Author information



Corresponding author

Correspondence to Wei-Min Wu.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Wu, WM., Yang, J. & Criddle, C.S. Microplastics pollution and reduction strategies. Front. Environ. Sci. Eng. 11, 6 (2017).

Download citation


  • microplastics
  • plastic microbeads
  • environmental pollution
  • biodegradation