Sorption of chemical contaminants on degradable and non-degradable microplastics: Recent progress and research trends

Fernando G. Torres, Diana Carolina Dioses-Salinas, Carlos Ivan Pizarro-Ortega, Gabriel E. De-la-Torre

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

91 Scopus citations


Microplastics (<5 mm) are ubiquitous contaminants of growing concern. These have been found in multiple environmental compartments, including remote sites where anthropogenic activity is null. Once released, microplastics interact with multiple chemicals in the environment, many of which are classified as organic contaminants or heavy metals. Some contaminants have an affinity for microplastics, attributed to certain sorption mechanisms, and thus become vectors of hazardous chemicals. Here, we focused on the sorption behavior of degradable and non-degradable microplastics, including field and laboratory experiments. We reviewed the sorption mechanisms, namely hydrophobic interactions, electrostatic interactions, pore-filling, Van der Waals forces, hydrogen bonding, and π-π interactions, and the factors strengthening or weakening these mechanisms. Then, we analyzed the literature investigating the sorption behavior of a wide range of chemicals contaminants on microplastics, and the current knowledge regarding the occurrence of organic contaminants and heavy metals on microplastics extracted from the environment. The future perspectives and research priorities were discussed. It is apparent that degradable microplastics, such as polylactic acid or polybutylene succinate, have a greater affinity for hydrophobic contaminants than conventional synthetic non-degradable microplastics according to recent studies. However, studies assessing degradable microplastics are scarce and much research is required to further prove this point. We stated several knowledge gaps in this new line of research and suggest the future studies to follow an integrative approach, allowing to comprehend the multiple factors involved, such as ecotoxicity, bioaccumulation, and fate of the chemical contaminants.

Original languageEnglish
Article number143875
Pages (from-to)143875
JournalScience of the Total Environment
StatePublished - 25 Feb 2021
Externally publishedYes


  • Adsorption
  • Contaminants
  • Factors
  • Hydrophobic interaction
  • Mechanisms
  • Nanoplastics


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