Microplastics in the freshwater and terrestrial environments: Prevalence, fates, impacts and sustainable solutions

Johnny Kee Hong Wong, Kek Kin Lee, Kuok Ho Daniel Tang*, Pow Seng Yap

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

400 Citations (Scopus)


The ubiquitous occurrences of microplastics in the environment have raised much concern and resulted in voluminous studies related to microplastics. Studies on microplastics pollution of the marine environment have received significantly higher attention compared to those of the freshwater and terrestrial environments. With the impetus to better understand microplastics in the freshwater and terrestrial environments, this review elucidates the findings of >100 articles related to the prevalence, fates and impacts of microplastics therein and the sustainable solutions, mostly in the past 10 years. This review shows the interconnection between terrestrial and freshwater microplastics with wastewater and sewage treatment plants as the most significant contributors of environmental microplastics via sludge and effluent discharges. Microplastics in both ecosystems comprise the primary and secondary forms with the latter resulted from weathering of the former. Besides retaining in soil and infiltrating with rainwater underground, terrestrial microplastics also enter the freshwater environment. The environmental microplastics interact with the biotic and abiotic components resulting in entrainment, settlement, biofouling, degradation, fragmentation and entry into the food chain, with subsequent transfer across the food chain. The abundance of environmental microplastics is attributed to population density and urbanization though tidal cycle, storms, floods and human activities can affect their distribution. The leaching of additives from microplastics poses major health concern and sustainable solutions target at reduction of plastics use and disposal, substitution with bioplastics and wastewater treatment innovations. Further studies on classification, detection, characterization and toxicity of microplastics are necessary to permit more effective formulation of solutions.

Original languageEnglish
Article number137512
JournalScience of the Total Environment
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2020


  • Fate
  • Freshwater
  • Microplastics
  • Occurrence
  • Solutions
  • Terrestrial

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