A meta-analysis of methodologies adopted by microplastic studies in China

Lincoln FOK, Theresa Wing Ling LAM, Heng-Xiang LI, Xiang-Rong XU

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66 Citations (Scopus)


China is the world's largest plastic producer and has been a focus of research on microplastic pollution. An increasing number of studies have documented plastics in the sediment, water and biota of China over the past decades. This systematic review compares different methodologies adopted by microplastic studies in China, including sampling equipment and methods; laboratory procedures in microplastic extraction and identification; and the characterisation and quantification of particles. In general, sediment samples were primarily collected with a grab sampler, while water samples were mostly taken from the surface using trawl nets. Different techniques, including density separation, chemical digestion, sieving and filtration, were applied to extract microplastics from the sample matrix. Visual sorting was an obligatory step that identifies microplastics by their morphological characteristics, such as size, shape and colour. Most studies in China reported the prevalence of irregular-shaped particles with sizes smaller than 1 mm. The chemical properties of microplastics were also assessed using infrared and Raman spectroscopy. Quantitative units commonly used for sediment, water and biota samples were "items per kg", "items per m³" and "items per individual", respectively. The inconsistencies in methods have marked the urgent warrant of a standardised methodology. It is believed that the findings of the present review can serve as an important waypoint contributing towards a more efficient and long-acting methodology for microplastic research, that can enable meaningful inter-study comparisons. Copyright © 2019 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.
Original languageEnglish
Article number135371
JournalScience of the Total Environment
Early online date23 Nov 2019
Publication statusPublished - 20 May 2020


Fok, L., Lam, T. W. L., Li, H.-X., & Xu, X.-R. (2020). A meta-analysis of methodologies adopted by microplastic studies in China. Science of The Total Environment, 718. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1016/j.scitotenv.2019.135371


  • Microplastics
  • Methodologies
  • Sample collection
  • Sample processing procedures
  • China


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