Microplastics have been increasingly documented in freshwater ecosystems in recent years, and growing concerns have been raised about their potential environmental health risks. To assess the current state of knowledge, with a focus on the UK, a literature review of existing freshwater microplastics studies was conducted. Sampling and analytical methodologies currently used to detect, characterise and quantify microplastics were assessed and microplastic types, sources, occurrence, transport and fate, and microplastic-biota interactions in the UK's freshwater environments were examined. Just 32% of published microplastics studies in the UK have focused on freshwater environments. These papers cover microplastic contamination of sediments, water and biota via a range of methods, rendering comparisons difficult. However, secondary microplastics are the most common type, and there are point (e.g. effluent) and diffuse (non-point, e.g. sludge) sources. Microplastic transport over a range of spatial scales and with different residence times will be influenced by particle characteristics, external forces (e.g. flow regimes), physical site characteristics (e.g. bottom topography), the degree of biofouling, and anthropogenic activity (e.g. dam release), however, there is a lack of data on this. It is predicted that impacts on biota will mirror that of the marine environment. There are many important gaps in current knowledge; field data on the transport of microplastics from diffuse sources are less available, especially in England. We provide recommendations for future research to further our understanding of microplastics in the environment and their impacts on freshwater biota in the UK.

Original languageEnglish
Article number113445
Pages (from-to)113445
JournalEnvironmental pollution (Barking, Essex : 1987)
Early online date21 Oct 2019
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2020


  • Freshwater
  • Microplastics
  • Pollution
  • UK


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