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Freshwater plastic pollution: Recognizing research biases and identifying knowledge gaps.

  • Blettler, Martín C M1
  • Abrial, Elie2
  • Khan, Farhan R3
  • Sivri, Nuket4
  • Espinola, Luis A2
  • 1 Instituto Nacional de Limnología (INALI; CONICET-UNL), Ciudad Universitaria (3000), Santa Fe, Argentina. Electronic address: [email protected] , (Argentina)
  • 2 Instituto Nacional de Limnología (INALI; CONICET-UNL), Ciudad Universitaria (3000), Santa Fe, Argentina. , (Argentina)
  • 3 Department of Science and Environment, Roskilde University, Universitetsvej 1, PO Box 260, DK-4000, Roskilde, Denmark. , (Denmark)
  • 4 Istanbul University, Cerrahpasa, Engineering Faculty, Department of Environmental Engineering, Istanbul, 34320, Turkey. , (Turkey)
Published Article
Water research
Publication Date
Oct 15, 2018
DOI: 10.1016/j.watres.2018.06.015
PMID: 29986250


The overwhelming majority of research conducted to date on plastic pollution (all size fractions) has focused on marine ecosystems. In comparison, only a few studies provide evidence for the presence of plastic debris in freshwater environments. However, owing to the numerous differences between freshwater studies (including studied species and habitats, geographical locations, social and economic contexts, the type of data obtained and also the broad range of purposes), they show only fragments of the overall picture of freshwater plastic pollution. This highlights the lack of a holistic vision and evidences several knowledge gaps and data biases. Through a bibliometric analysis we identified such knowledge gaps, inconsistencies and survey trends of plastic pollution research within freshwater ecosystems. We conclude that there is a continued need to increase the field-data bases about plastics (all size fractions) in freshwater environments. This is particularly important to estimate river plastic emissions to the world's oceans. Accordingly, data about macroplastics from most polluted and larger rivers are very scarce, although macroplastics represent a huge input in terms of plastics weight. In addition, submerged macroplastics may play an important role in transporting mismanaged plastic waste, however almost no studies exist. Although many of the most plastic polluted rivers are in Asia, only 14% of the reviewed studies were carried out in this continent (even though the major inland fisheries of the world are located in Asia's rivers). The potential damage caused by macroplastics on a wide range of freshwater fauna is as yet undetermined, even though negative impacts have been well documented in similar marine species. We also noted a clear supremacy of microplastic studies over macroplastic ones, even though there is no reason to assume that freshwater ecosystems remain unaffected by macro-debris. Finally, we recommend focusing monitoring efforts in most polluted rivers worldwide, but particularly in countries with rapid economic development and poor waste management. Copyright © 2018 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

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