Separation, characterization and identification of microplastics and nanoplastics in the environment

Wanyi Fu, Jiacheng Min, Weiyu Jiang, Yang Li, Wen Zhang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

165 Scopus citations


Microplastics (MPs) have globally been detected in aquatic and marine environments, which has raised scientific interests and public health concerns during the past decade. MPs are those polymeric particles with at least one dimension <5 mm. MPs possess complex physicochemical properties that vary their mobility, bioavailability and toxicity toward organisms and interactions with their surrounding pollutants. Similar to nanomaterials and nanoparticles, accurate and reliable detection and measurement of MPs or nanoplastics and their characteristics are important to warrant a comprehensive understanding of their environmental and ecological impacts. This review elaborates the principles and applications of diverse analytical instruments or techniques for separation, characterization and quantification of MPs in the environment. The strength and weakness of different instrumental methods in separation, morphological, physical classification, chemical characterization and quantification for MPs are critically compared and analyzed. There is a demand for standardized experimental procedures and characterization analysis due to the complex transformation, cross-contamination and heterogeneous properties of MPs in size and chemical compositions. Moreover, this review highlights emerging and promising characterization techniques that may have been overlooked by research communities to study MPs. The future research efforts may need to develop and implement new analytical tools and combinations of hyphenated technologies to complement respective limitations of detection and yield reliable characterization information for MPs. The goal of this critical review is to facilitate the research of plastic particles and pollutants in the environment and understanding of their environmental and human health effects.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number137561
JournalScience of the Total Environment
StatePublished - Jun 15 2020

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Environmental Engineering
  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Waste Management and Disposal
  • Pollution


  • Characterization
  • Detection
  • Microplastics
  • Nanoplastics
  • Plastic pollution


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