Plastics in the Environment: A PLOS ONE Call for Papers

– Guest Editors –

Dannielle Green

Bronwyn Laycock

Colin Moffat

Richard Thompson

Jes Vollertson

– Call for Papers for a PLOS ONE Collection –  

Plastic pollution in the natural environment is a global problem and a vital topic within sustainable development, with an estimated five trillion plastic pieces weighing over 250,000 tonnes afloat in the oceans in 2014 [1]. Plastic pollution of the environment is an ongoing concern which has the potential to significantly negatively impact the earth system and biosphere in the long-term. Plastic debris is globally distributed in various environments, affecting marine and terrestrial ecosystems through the entanglement of animals and accidental plastic ingestion by various species, and there are concerns that plastic can transfer potentially harmful chemicals to biota. We are also seeing the first evidence that microplastics may be present in drinks and food for human consumption as well as in the air we breathe. With plastic production globally still increasing, society is at a crucial point for tackling the challenge of the ongoing plastic pollution of the natural environment, through a better understanding of the extent and distribution of the problem (plastic has recently been found in the deepest trench in the ocean at > 10,000m), the range of impacts of plastic especially in mobile environments, ways to reduce the generation of plastic waste and litter, for example by recycling, and, where appropriate, mitigating the effects of plastic already present in the environment.

PLOS ONE is delighted to announce a Call for Papers on Plastics in the Environment, bringing together research from different disciplines in order to shed light on this crucial and highly interdisciplinary topic, and to present this research to the broad readership of PLOS ONE. The aim of this call is to bring together and highlight research on the various aspects and facets of the local, regional and global problems of plastic pollution of the environment, in order to aid efforts to mitigate this ongoing crisis, and to facilitate community conversation and engagement from various parties. This call welcomes submissions of research articles from various parties, whether researchers, environmental organisations, policymakers and industry. We welcome submissions approaching the topic from a wide variety of angles - from sampling and modelling the scale and distribution of environmental plastics and their effect on ecosystems and wildlife, to the manufacturing and recycling processes that will help reduce the generation of plastic waste and litter. PLOS ONE also considers articles presenting new databases, tools, methods and software (, which can further our understanding of the topic. This call aims to bring together studies from a variety of disciplines such as environmental sciences, ecology, oceanography, chemistry and social sciences, in order to facilitate conversation and build a vital collection of current research on plastics in the global environment.

Example topics include:

  • The origin and extent of plastics in the environment, including sources and sinks
  • Improved estimates on the distribution, mass and abundance of plastics in the environment, including degradation times
  • Improved estimates of the proportion of micro- and nano-fragments formed during environmental ageing, and their fate
  • Strategies to stem the flow of plastics into the environment, including spillage or pollution events, such as pellet loss in the supply chain
  • Modelling and measurements of the dispersal pathways for plastics
  • Tools for mitigation strategies to handle current contamination and reduce future pollution
  • Studies on the effect and impact of plastics on marine and terrestrial ecosystems (both at the individual and population level), including animal entanglement, plastic ingestion, increased exposure of animals to contaminants, translocation of species and the additional stress to animals in a changing climate
  • Effects of plastics on human health and wellbeing, including microplastics in the air
  • Microbiology, biogeochemistry and weathering of plastic particles in the environment
  • Transport of chemicals and metals by plastic particles
  • Microplastic accumulation in the soil, such as from wastewater sludge dispersal, agricultural plastics and tyre debris
  • Materials science and life cycle assessment submissions on alternatives to plastics in various products, and research on biodegradable plastics or materials which are able to degrade with less potential harm than current plastics
  • Methods to enhance plastics recycling
  • Strategies for effective treatment of contaminated mixed plastic wastes, particularly those that lead to products of commercial value
  • Real, estimated and modelled outcomes of efforts to reduce the amount of plastics, particularly single-use plastics
  • Improved estimates of the sources of plastic waste generated by individuals and households, and efforts to reduce this type of plastic waste
  • Citizen science projects and community efforts estimating and tackling current volumes and distribution of plastics in the environment
  • Economical considerations for various recycling initiatives and the establishment of a circular economy
  • … and many more!

Sharing the data underlying the studies’ findings will be a requirement of publication, per the PLOS data policy. Articles should be submitted by December 5, 2019. Accepted articles that fall into the scope described above will be included in a PLOS ONE Collection that will be published in early 2020. When submitting, please specify in your cover letter that you are submitting to the “Plastics in the Environment” Call for Papers.  


  1. Eriksen M, Lebreton LCM, Carson HS, Thiel M, Moore CJ, Borerro JC, et al. (2014) Plastic Pollution in the World's Oceans: More than 5 Trillion Plastic Pieces Weighing over 250,000 Tons Afloat at Sea. PLoS ONE 9(12): e111913.

Meet the Editors

Dannielle Green

Guest Editor, PLOS ONE

Dr Dannielle Green is a senior lecturer in ecology in the School of Life Sciences at Anglia Ruskin University, Cambridge, where she is the director of the Applied Ecology Research Group. Her research is interdisciplinary and focuses on understanding and mitigating the impacts of human activities on natural ecosystems. Dannielle earned her Bachelor’s in Marine Science from the University of Sydney in 2007, her PhD in invasive species in 2012 from University College Dublin and she won an Irish Research Council fellowship in 2013 at Trinity College Dublin. Since 2013 she has been researching the ecological impacts of plastic pollution in marine ecosystems. Her research on plastics bags and on microplastic litter were the first to show the potential for wider, community-level effects of plastic debris and have been used as evidence by governmental and international organisations such as the UK parliament, the Department of the Environment, Fisheries and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), the Australian senate and the United Nations Environment Programme. Dannielle is passionate about science communication and is a regular guest on BBC radio, The Naked Scientists podcast as well as participating in public outreach events such as Soapbox Science.

Bronwyn Laycock

Guest Editor, PLOS ONE

Associate Professor Bronwyn Laycock has a diverse background in polymer research, with a focus on polymer degradation and lifetime estimation, biopolymer production, polymer conversion chemistries and polymer applications, particularly in the space of controlled release. Some specific application areas in her research program include biopolymers (particularly polyhydroxyalkanoates) from waste, bioderived composites using natural fibres such as wood, controlled release matrixes for pesticide and fertiliser applications, polyurethane chemistry, polymer foams, biodegradable packaging, carbon nanofibre production, waste to diesel, and peptide based conducting nanowires. She holds a Joint Chairman’s Award for research/commercialization (CRC for Polymers) and an Excellence in Innovation Award (CRC Association) as well as a Joint CSIRO Medal for Research Achievement 2009 for her work on the extended wear contact lens project (within the Vision CRC).

Colin Moffat

Guest Editor, PLOS ONE

Chief Scientific Advisor Marine, Scottish Government and Visiting Professor, Robert Gordon University

Initially studying chemistry, Colin completed a PhD in heparin biochemistry, including links to tumour angiogenesis, before joining Torry Research Station where he investigated the structure of fish lipids and their nutritional benefits. He subsequently investigated organic contaminants in the marine and terrestrial environments, pathological samples, food producing animals and food products with a specific interest in their biological effects on marine biota.

Colin has specialised in the methodology associated with determining the state of marine ecosystems. He lead on the production of assessments of the North-East Atlantic, including the Intermediate Assessment 2017 which utilised new indicators and targets, providing an assessment of progress towards achieving a clean, healthy and biologically diverse North-East Atlantic.

Colin continues to study the movement of contaminants through trophic levels and has developed an interest in the presence and impact of microplastics. He is a member of the Pool of Experts for the United Nations World Ocean Assessment 2. He recently attended the first global planning meeting for the UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development (2021 – 2030). The Decade will support the entire 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and, provide the science we need for the ocean we want.

Richard C. Thompson

Guest Editor, PLOS ONE

Richard wrote the first paper describing the accumulation of microplastics in the ocean and much of his work over the last two decades has focused on marine debris; its sources, distribution and impacts as well as potential solutions. He has over 170 publications (H-index 54) and leads an extensive research portfolio. He was a co-author of the European Union Marine Strategy Framework Directive text on marine litter and has been a member of numerous international working groups on marine litter including GESAMP, NCEAS, UNEP, UNIRP. In 2014 he presented his research to the US Secretary of State, John Kerry, at his Our Ocean meeting in Washington. He has also presented to scientific and policy leads from OECD and G7 nations. Recent work by his team directly informed the UK Government decision to introduce legislation on the use of microplastics in cosmetics and contributed to the Environmental Audit Committee report of Sustainable Fashion. In 2017 Thompson received the Marsh Award for Marine and Freshwater Conservation for his work on plastics; and was recognised in the New Year Honours List, with an OBE for services to Marine Science. He leads the International Marine Litter Research Unit at Plymouth.

Twitter: @ProfRThompson

Jes Vollertsen

Guest Editor, PLOS ONE

Jes Vollertsen is a Professor of Environmental Engineering at Aalborg University, Denmark. He received his PhD from the same institution, where he also worked as assistant and associate professor. Prior to his academic career, he worked in public and private companies serving the urban water sector.

His research background is biological and chemical processes and pollutants in urban waters, with focus on sewerage systems and stormwater drainage systems. His approach is to develop fundamental knowledge to solve real world issues and to bring this knowledge into play at full scale. His work on microplastics began in 2015 with focus on analytical methods for microplastics quantification. It is his goal to contribute to trustworthy, fast, and affordable methods to quantify microplastics in the environment. His work targets all types of matrixes, e.g. water, wastewater, biota, food, soil, sediments, biosolids, air, etcetera. He addresses the processes behind technologies to mitigate the microplastic problem and attempts to quantify the load of microplastics on the natural environment. As part of this, he addresses aspects of the physical, chemical, and biological breakdown of microplastics in the environment.

PLOS ONE Handling Editors

Pratheep Annamalai  Nicola Beaumont Steph Borrelle David Bucknall
Antonio Jose Felix Carvalho Susana CM Fernandes Jose Gamez-Perez Matthieu George
Peter Halley Michael Kessler Martin Koller Amitava Mukherjee
Steven Pratt Maria Cristina Righetti Andrés Rodríguez-Seijo Per-Olof Syren
Palanisami Thavamani Thomas Werner Fengwei Xie  


PLOS Papers Illustrating the Collection Scope

Plastic Pollution in the World's Oceans: More than 5 Trillion Plastic Pieces Weighing over 250,000 Tons Afloat at Sea

Authors: Marcus Eriksen, Laurent C. M. Lebreton, Henry S. Carson, Martin Thiel, Charles J. Moore, Jose C. Borerro, Francois Galgani, Peter G. Ryan, Julia Reisser

PLOS ONEDecember 10, 2014

Abundance and distribution of microplastics within surface sediments of a key shellfish growing region of Canada

Authors: T. N. Kazmiruk, V. D. Kazmiruk, L. I. Bendell 

PLOS ONEMay 23, 2018

Ability of fungi isolated from plastic debris floating in the shoreline of a lake to degrade plastics

Authors: Ivano Brunner, Moira Fischer, Joel Rüthi, Beat Stierli, Beat Frey

PLOS ONEAugust 22, 2018

Poor extraction efficiencies of polystyrene nano- and microplastics from biosolids and soil

Authors: Zhan Wang, Stephen E. Taylor, Prabhakar Sharma, Markus Flury 

PLOS ONENovember 29, 2018

Microplastics in Mediterranean Sea: A protocol to robustly assess contamination characteristic

Authors: Mikaël Kedzierski, Jonathan Villain, Mathilde Falcou-Préfol, Marie Emmanuelle Kerros, Maryvonne Henry, Maria Luiza Pedrotti, Stéphane Bruzaud

PLOS ONEFebruary 11, 2019

Anthropogenic contamination of tap water, beer, and sea salt

Authors: Mary Kosuth, Sherri A. Mason, Elizabeth V. Wattenberg 

PLOS ONEApril 11, 2018

Production of methane and ethylene from plastic in the environment

Authors: Sarah-Jeanne Royer, Sara Ferrón, Samuel T. Wilson, David M. Karl  

PLOS ONEAugust 1, 2018


Publishing Process

We aim to be as transparent as possible about our publishing and peer review processes. Papers submitted to PLOS ONE and under consideration for the Plastics in the Environment Collection will be specially handled by hand-selected active researchers from our Editorial Board working in this area, in partnership with staff editor Hanna Landenmark.

For more information on the PLOS ONE publication process, please see the Editorial and Peer Review Information page. 


Submission Instructions

Are you ready to submit or want to learn more about how the submission process works? To make it as easy as possible for our communities, PLOS ONE has all of our submission instructions posted online. If there are any details you can’t find or if you have any questions, please email us at

When submitting to the Call for Papers, select the Article Type “Research Article” and enter “Plastics in the Environment” in the Call for Papers field in the Additional Information section of the online submission form. Authors should specify that they are submitting to the “Plastics in the Environment” Call for Papers in their cover letter.


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