an official journal of: published by:
Editor in Chief: RAFFAELLO COSSU


  • Alessandro Marrone - Department of Biology, Ecology and Earth Sciences, University of Calabria, Italy
  • Daniela Pellegrino - Department of Biology, Ecology and Earth Sciences, University of Calabria, Italy


Released under CC BY-NC-ND

Copyright: © 2021 CISA Publisher


Microplastic pollution has been under the magnifying glass for several years now. Existing data relating to microplastics on surface waters suggest that they are globally widespread, but there are several gaps of knowledge in relation to understand how many there are in different locations, what is their composition, where do they come from and where they are going. What we need is a global collaborative effort to collect this information on a large scale. To date, standardized methodologies for the sampling and analysis of microplastics are still lacking, which therefore hinders the comparison of the reported data. This review summarizes the currently used methodologies for sampling and identifying microplastics in surface water, with the intention of contributing to the establishment of standardized and harmonized protocols. In addition, we focus our attention on the great potential that environmental forensic sciences have to face the delicate and insidious challenge of microplastic pollution, urging future research to go in this direction, in order to develop a rigorous and robust forensic method for microplastics study.


Editorial History

  • Received: 17 Dec 2021
  • Revised: 21 Feb 2022
  • Accepted: 28 Feb 2022
  • Available online: 31 Mar 2022


Araujo, C. F., Nolasco, M. M., Ribeiro, A. M. P., & Ribeiro-Claro, P. J. A. (2018). Identification of microplastics using Raman spectroscopy: Latest developments and future prospects. Water Research, 142, 426–440.
DOI 10.1016/j.watres.2018.05.060

Browne, M. A., Crump, P., Niven, S. J., Teuten, E., Tonkin, A., Galloway, T., & Thompson, R. (2011). Accumulation of microplastic on shorelines woldwide: Sources and sinks. Environmental Science and Technology, 45(21), 9175–9179.
DOI 10.1021/es201811s

Cattle, J. A., Way, C. P., Fuller, S., Low, G., Vaughan, G. T., Cattle, J. A., Way, C. P., Fuller, S., Low, G., & Vaughan, G. T. (2010). Identification and Matching of Environmental Samples for Regulatory Purposes : A Systematic Approach Identification and Matching of Environmental Samples for Regulatory Purposes : A Systematic Approach. Environmental Forensics, July 2015, 185–194

Cincinelli, A., Scopetani, C., Chelazzi, D., Lombardini, E., Martellini, T., Katsoyiannis, A., Fossi, M. C., & Corsolini, S. (2017). Microplastic in the surface waters of the Ross Sea (Antarctica): Occurrence, distribution and characterization by FTIR. Chemosphere, 175, 391–400.
DOI 10.1016/j.chemosphere.2017.02.024

Corcoran, P. L., Biesinger, M. C., & Grifi, M. (2009). Plastics and beaches: A degrading relationship. Marine Pollution Bulletin, 58(1), 80–84.
DOI 10.1016/j.marpolbul.2008.08.022

Cowger, W., Gray, A., Christiansen, S. H., DeFrond, H., Deshpande, A. D., Hemabessiere, L., Lee, E., Mill, L., Munno, K., Ossmann, B. E., Pittroff, M., Rochman, C., Sarau, G., Tarby, S., & Primpke, S. (2020). Critical Review of Processing and Classification Techniques for Images and Spectra in Microplastic Research. Applied Spectroscopy, 74(9), 989–1010.
DOI 10.1177/0003702820929064

Cózar, A., Sanz-Martín, M., Martí, E., González-Gordillo, J. I., Ubeda, B., Á.gálvez, J., Irigoien, X., & Duarte, C. M. (2015). Plastic accumulation in the mediterranean sea. PLoS ONE, 10(4).
DOI 10.1371/journal.pone.0121762

Crawford, C. B., & Quinn, B. (2017). Microplastic identification techniques. Microplastic Pollutants, 219–267.
DOI 10.1016/b978-0-12-809406-8.00010-4

de Haan, W. P., Sanchez-Vidal, A., & Canals, M. (2019). Floating microplastics and aggregate formation in the Western Mediterranean Sea. Marine Pollution Bulletin, 140, 523–535.
DOI 10.1016/j.marpolbul.2019.01.053

Dris, R., Gasperi, J., Rocher, V., & Tassin, B. (2018). Synthetic and non-synthetic anthropogenic fibers in a river under the impact of Paris Megacity: Sampling methodological aspects and flux estimations. Science of the Total Environment, 618, 157–164.
DOI 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2017.11.009

Elert, A. M., Becker, R., Duemichen, E., Eisentraut, P., Falkenhagen, J., Sturm, H., & Braun, U. (2017). Comparison of different methods for MP detection: What can we learn from them, and why asking the right question before measurements matters? Environmental Pollution, 231, 1256–1264.
DOI 10.1016/j.envpol.2017.08.074

Fang, C., Luo, Y., Zhang, X., Zhang, H., Nolan, A., & Naidu, R. (2022). Identification and visualisation of microplastics via PCA to decode Raman spectrum matrix towards imaging. Chemosphere, 286.
DOI 10.1016/j.chemosphere.2021.131736

Farooq, S., Qadir, A., & Jameel, N. (2022). Evaluation of Different Metrics to Study Microplastics as an Environmental Forensic Tool. 89–107.
DOI 10.1007/978-3-030-89220-3_5

Fries, E., Dekiff, J. H., Willmeyer, J., Nuelle, M. T., Ebert, M., & Remy, D. (2013). Identification of polymer types and additives in marine microplastic particles using pyrolysis-GC/MS and scanning electron microscopy. Environmental Sciences: Processes and Impacts, 15(10), 1949–1956.
DOI 10.1039/c3em00214d

Gago, J., Filgueiras, A., Pedrotti, M. L., Caetano, M., & Firas, J. (2019). Standardised protocol for monitoring microplastics in seawater. JPI-Oceans BASEMAN project. January, 96.
DOI 10.13140/RG.2.2.14181.45282

Gray, A. D., & Weinstein, J. E. (2017). Size- and shape-dependent effects of microplastic particles on adult daggerblade grass shrimp (Palaemonetes pugio). Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry, 36(11), 3074–3080.
DOI 10.1002/etc.3881

Gwinnett, C., Harrison, E., Osborne, A., Pivato, A., & Varghese, G. (2021). Sampling microplastics for environmental forensic applications. Detritus, 14, I–III.
DOI 10.31025/2611-4135/2021.14080

Gwinnett, C. M. B., Osborne, A. O., & Jackson, A. R. W. (2021). The application of tape lifting for microplastic pollution monitoring. Environmental Advances, 5.
DOI 10.1016/j.envadv.2021.100066

Haddad, R. I. (2004). Invited editorial: What is environmental forensics? Environmental Forensics, 5(1), 3.
DOI 10.1080/15275920490424006

Harrison, J. P., Hoellein, T. J., Sapp, M., Tagg, A. S., Ju-Nam, Y., & Ojeda, J. J. (2018). Microplastic-associated biofilms: A comparison of freshwater and marine environments. Handbook of Environmental Chemistry, 58, 181–201.
DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-61615-5_9

Hidalgo-Ruz, V., Gutow, L., Thompson, R. C., & Thiel, M. (2012). Microplastics in the marine environment: A review of the methods used for identification and quantification. Environmental Science and Technology, 46(6), 3060–3075.
DOI 10.1021/es2031505

Huppertsberg, S., & Knepper, T. P. (2018). Instrumental analysis of microplastics—benefits and challenges. Analytical and Bioanalytical Chemistry, 410(25), 6343–6352.
DOI 10.1007/s00216-018-1210-8

Jahnke, A., Arp, H. P. H., Escher, B. I., Gewert, B., Gorokhova, E., Kühnel, D., Ogonowski, M., Potthoff, A., Rummel, C., Schmitt-Jansen, M., Toorman, E., & MacLeod, M. (2017). Reducing Uncertainty and Confronting Ignorance about the Possible Impacts of Weathering Plastic in the Marine Environment. Environmental Science and Technology Letters, 4(3), 85–90.
DOI 10.1021/acs.estlett.7b00008

Jambeck, J. R., Geyer, R., Wilcox, C., Siegler, T. R., Perryman, M., Andrady, A., Narayan, R., & Law, K. L. (2015). Plastic waste inputs from land into the ocean. Science, 347(6223), 768–771.
DOI 10.1126/science.1260352

Jollife, I. T., & Cadima, J. (2016). Principal component analysis: A review and recent developments. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A: Mathematical, Physical and Engineering Sciences, 374(2065).
DOI 10.1098/rsta.2015.0202

Käppler, A., Fischer, D., Oberbeckmann, S., Schernewski, G., Labrenz, M., Eichhorn, K. J., & Voit, B. (2016). Analysis of environmental microplastics by vibrational microspectroscopy: FTIR, Raman or both? Analytical and Bioanalytical Chemistry, 408(29), 8377–8391.
DOI 10.1007/s00216-016-9956-3

Kazour, M., Jemaa, S., Issa, C., Khalaf, G., & Amara, R. (2019). Microplastics pollution along the Lebanese coast (Eastern Mediterranean Basin): Occurrence in surface water, sediments and biota samples. Science of the Total Environment, 696.
DOI 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2019.133933

Kögel, T., Bjorøy, Ø., Toto, B., Bienfait, A. M., & Sanden, M. (2020). Micro- and nanoplastic toxicity on aquatic life: Determining factors. Science of the Total Environment, 709.
DOI 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2019.136050

Kukulka, T., Proskurowski, G., Morét-Ferguson, S., Meyer, D. W., & Law, K. L. (2012). The effect of wind mixing on the vertical distribution of buoyant plastic debris. Geophysical Research Letters, 39(7).
DOI 10.1029/2012GL051116

Kumar, A. S., Beggio, G., Pivato, A., Gwinnett, C., & Varghese, G. (2021). Analysis of microplastics for environmental forensic applications. Detritus, 16, I–IV.
DOI 10.31025/2611-4135/2021.15125

Kumar, A. S., & Varghese, G. K. (2021). Microplastic pollution of Calicut beach - Contributing factors and possible impacts. Marine Pollution Bulletin, 169.
DOI 10.1016/j.marpolbul.2021.112492

Leistenschneider, C., Burkhardt-Holm, P., Mani, T., Primpke, S., Taubner, H., & Gerdts, G. (2021). Microplastics in the Weddell Sea (Antarctica): A Forensic Approach for Discrimination between Environmental and Vessel-Induced Microplastics. Environmental Science and Technology, 55(23), 15900–15911.
DOI 10.1021/acs.est.1c05207

Lenz, R., Enders, K., Stedmon, C. A., MacKenzie, D. M. A., & Nielsen, T. G. (2015). A critical assessment of visual identification of marine microplastic using Raman spectroscopy for analysis improvement. Marine Pollution Bulletin, 100(1), 82–91.
DOI 10.1016/j.marpolbul.2015.09.026

Li, C., Wang, X., Liu, K., Zhu, L., Wei, N., Zong, C., & Li, D. (2021). Pelagic microplastics in surface water of the Eastern Indian Ocean during monsoon transition period: Abundance, distribution, and characteristics. Science of the Total Environment, 755.
DOI 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2020.142629

Li, Y., Lu, Z., Zheng, H., Wang, J., & Chen, C. (2020). Microplastics in surface water and sediments of Chongming Island in the Yangtze Estuary, China. Environmental Sciences Europe, 32(1).
DOI 10.1186/s12302-020-0297-7

Llorca, M., Álvarez-Muñoz, D., Ábalos, M., Rodríguez-Mozaz, S., Santos, L. H. M. L. M., León, V. M., Campillo, J. A., Martínez-Gómez, C., Abad, E., & Farré, M. (2020). Microplastics in Mediterranean coastal area: toxicity and impact for the environment and human health. Trends in Environmental Analytical Chemistry, 27.
DOI 10.1016/j.teac.2020.e00090

Lorenz, C., Roscher, L., Meyer, M. S., Hildebrandt, L., Prume, J., Löder, M. G. J., Primpke, S., & Gerdts, G. (2019). Spatial distribution of microplastics in sediments and surface waters of the southern North Sea. Environmental Pollution, 252, 1719–1729.
DOI 10.1016/j.envpol.2019.06.093

MacArthur Dame Ellen, Waughray Dominic, M. R. S. (2016). The New Plastics Economy: Rethinking the future of plastics. Ellen MacArthur Foundation, January, 120

Marrone, A., La Russa, D., Brunelli, E., Santovito, G., La Russa, M. F., Barca, D., & Pellegrino, D. (2021). Antarctic Fish as a Global Pollution Sensor: Metals Biomonitoring in a Twelve-Year Period. Frontiers in Molecular Biosciences, 8.
DOI 10.3389/fmolb.2021.794946

Marrone, A., La Russa, M. F., Randazzo, L., La Russa, D., Cellini, E., & Pellegrino, D. (2021). Microplastics in the center of mediterranean: Comparison of the two calabrian coasts and distribution from coastal areas to the open sea. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 18(20).
DOI 10.3390/ijerph182010712

Martellini, T., Guerranti, C., Scopetani, C., Ugolini, A., Chelazzi, D., & Cincinelli, A. (2018). A snapshot of microplastics in the coastal areas of the Mediterranean Sea. TrAC - Trends in Analytical Chemistry, 109, 173–179.
DOI 10.1016/j.trac.2018.09.028

Miller, E., Sedlak, M., Lin, D., Box, C., Holleman, C., Rochman, C. M., & Sutton, R. (2021). Recommended best practices for collecting, analyzing, and reporting microplastics in environmental media: Lessons learned from comprehensive monitoring of San Francisco Bay. Journal of Hazardous Materials, 409.
DOI 10.1016/j.jhazmat.2020.124770

Nuelle, M. T., Dekiff, J. H., Remy, D., & Fries, E. (2014). A new analytical approach for monitoring microplastics in marine sediments. Environmental Pollution, 184, 161–169.
DOI 10.1016/j.envpol.2013.07.027

Pan, Z., Guo, H., Chen, H., Wang, S., Sun, X., Zou, Q., Zhang, Y., Lin, H., Cai, S., & Huang, J. (2019). Microplastics in the Northwestern Pacific: Abundance, distribution, and characteristics. Science of the Total Environment, 650, 1913–1922.
DOI 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2018.09.244

Petrisor, I. (2005). Fingerprinting in environmental forensics. Environmental Forensics, 6(2), 101–102.
DOI 10.1080/15275920590952702

Petrisor, I. G. (2014). Environmental Forensics Fundamentals. Environmental Forensics Fundamentals.
DOI 10.1201/b17158

Philp, R. P. (2014). An overview of environmental forensics. Geologica Acta, 12(4), 363–374.
DOI 10.1344/GeologicaActa2014.12.4.7

Plastics Europe. (2019). Plastics - the Facts 2019. An Analysis of European Plastics Production, Demand and Waste Data

Prata, J. C., Reis, V., da Costa, J. P., Mouneyrac, C., Duarte, A. C., & Rocha-Santos, T. (2021). Contamination issues as a challenge in quality control and quality assurance in microplastics analytics. Journal of Hazardous Materials, 403.
DOI 10.1016/j.jhazmat.2020.123660

Primpke, S., Christiansen, S. H., Cowger, W., De Frond, H., Deshpande, A., Fischer, M., Holland, E. B., Meyns, M., O’Donnell, B. A., Ossmann, B. E., Pittroff, M., Sarau, G., Scholz-Böttcher, B. M., & Wiggin, K. J. (2020). Critical Assessment of Analytical Methods for the Harmonized and Cost-Efficient Analysis of Microplastics. Applied Spectroscopy, 74(9), 1012–1047.
DOI 10.1177/0003702820921465

Rivers, M. L., Gwinnett, C., & Woodall, L. C. (2019). Quantification is more than counting: Actions required to accurately quantify and report isolated marine microplastics. Marine Pollution Bulletin, 139, 100–104.
DOI 10.1016/j.marpolbul.2018.12.024

Robertson James, Roux Claude and Wiggins, K. G. (2017). Forensic Examination of Fibers (Third Edit). Taylor & Francis Group. ISBN 9781439828649

Ross, P. S., Chastain, S., Vassilenko, E., Etemadifar, A., Zimmermann, S., Quesnel, S. A., Eert, J., Solomon, E., Patankar, S., Posacka, A. M., & Williams, B. (2021). Pervasive distribution of polyester fibres in the Arctic Ocean is driven by Atlantic inputs. Nature Communications, 12(1).
DOI 10.1038/s41467-020-20347-1

Ruiz-Orejón, L. F., Sardá, R., & Ramis-Pujol, J. (2016). Floating plastic debris in the Central and Western Mediterranean Sea. Marine Environmental Research, 120, 136–144.
DOI 10.1016/j.marenvres.2016.08.001

S. K, A., & Varghese, G. K. (2020). Environmental forensic analysis of the microplastic pollution at “Nattika” Beach, Kerala Coast, India. Environmental Forensics, 21(1), 21–36.
DOI 10.1080/15275922.2019.1693442

Shahul Hamid, F., Bhatti, M. S., Anuar, N., Anuar, N., Mohan, P., & Periathamby, A. (2018). Worldwide distribution and abundance of microplastic: How dire is the situation? Waste Management and Research, 36(10), 873–897.
DOI 10.1177/0734242X18785730

Shim, W. J., Hong, S. H., & Eo, S. E. (2017). Identification methods in microplastic analysis: A review. Analytical Methods, 9(9), 1384–1391.
DOI 10.1039/c6ay02558g

Silva, A. B., Bastos, A. S., Justino, C. I. L., da Costa, J. P., Duarte, A. C., & Rocha-Santos, T. A. P. (2018). Microplastics in the environment: Challenges in analytical chemistry - A review. Analytica Chimica Acta, 1017, 1–19.
DOI 10.1016/j.aca.2018.02.043

Suaria, G., Achtypi, A., Perold, V., Lee, J. R., Pierucci, A., Bornman, T. G., Aliani, S., & Ryan, P. G. (2020). Microfibers in oceanic surface waters: A global characterization. Science Advances, 6(23).
DOI 10.1126/sciadv.aay8493

Suaria, G., Avio, C. G., Mineo, A., Lattin, G. L., Magaldi, M. G., Belmonte, G., Moore, C. J., Regoli, F., & Aliani, S. (2016). The Mediterranean Plastic Soup: Synthetic polymers in Mediterranean surface waters. Scientific Reports, 6.
DOI 10.1038/srep37551

Suaria, G., Perold, V., Lee, J. R., Lebouard, F., Aliani, S., & Ryan, P. G. (2020). Floating macro- and microplastics around the Southern Ocean: Results from the Antarctic Circumnavigation Expedition. Environment International, 136.
DOI 10.1016/j.envint.2020.105494

van der Hal, N., Ariel, A., & Angel, D. L. (2017). Exceptionally high abundances of microplastics in the oligotrophic Israeli Mediterranean coastal waters. Marine Pollution Bulletin, 116(1–2), 151–155.
DOI 10.1016/j.marpolbul.2016.12.052

Vermaire, J. C., Pomeroy, C., Herczegh, S. M., Haggart, O., & Murphy, M. (2017). Microplastic abundance and distribution in the open water and sediment of the Ottawa River, Canada, and its tributaries. Facets, 2(1), 301–314.
DOI 10.1139/facets-2016-0070

Waller, C. L., Griffiths, H. J., Waluda, C. M., Thorpe, S. E., Loaiza, I., Moreno, B., Pacherres, C. O., & Hughes, K. A. (2017). Microplastics in the Antarctic marine system: An emerging area of research. Science of the Total Environment, 598, 220–227.
DOI 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2017.03.283

Wang, S., Chen, H., Zhou, X., Tian, Y., Lin, C., Wang, W., Zhou, K., Zhang, Y., & Lin, H. (2020). Microplastic abundance, distribution and composition in the mid-west Pacific Ocean. Environmental Pollution, 264.
DOI 10.1016/j.envpol.2020.114125

Wang, W., & Wang, J. (2018). Investigation of microplastics in aquatic environments: An overview of the methods used, from field sampling to laboratory analysis. TrAC - Trends in Analytical Chemistry, 108, 195–202.
DOI 10.1016/j.trac.2018.08.026

Woodall, L. C., Gwinnett, C., Packer, M., Thompson, R. C., Robinson, L. F., & Paterson, G. L. J. (2015). Using a forensic science approach to minimize environmental contamination and to identify microfibres in marine sediments. Marine Pollution Bulletin, 95(1), 40–46.
DOI 10.1016/j.marpolbul.2015.04.044