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Volume 3 Issue 11, November 2022

Plastic is ubiquitous in our lives and the environment. This Issue and the accompanying Collection bring together research and opinion on the occurrence, transport, and fate of plastics in the environment, and outlines opportunities for its prospective management.

Image credit: Lasha Tsertsvadze/EyeEm via Getty Images. Cover design: Carl Conway.

Editorial

  • Earth is polluted with plastic waste, with impacts on ecosystems and health. This Issue and online Collection bring together research on plastic in the environment and discussion on how to combat this growing problem.

    Editorial

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Comment

  • Solving the plastic waste problem requires pre- and post-consumption actions. Behaviour change interventions — including nudges, norm messages and education — offer opportunities to reduce demand for single-use plastic while industry-wide solutions and governmental policies are developed and expanded.

    • Heather Barnes Truelove
    • Kaitlin T. Raimi
    • Amanda R. Carrico
    Comment
  • Plastic pollution is widely presented as a waste problem, resulting in proposed solutions that target end-of-life waste management and consumer behaviour. This framing misrepresents the entangled global social and ecological challenges of the plastic crisis, which must be recognised for effective, equitable and sustainable responses.

    • Patricia Villarrubia-Gómez
    • Bethanie Carney Almroth
    • Sarah E. Cornell
    Comment
  • The development of a global legally binding treaty by the UN to end plastic pollution is underway. To be effective, the global treaty requires new levels of transparency, disclosure and cooperation to support evidence-based policymaking that avoids the fragmented and reactionary policies of the past.

    • Antaya March
    • Keiron P. Roberts
    • Stephen Fletcher
    Comment
  • Monitoring marine plastic pollution requires repeated, long-term, global and harmonised observations of plastic presence, quantity and type, which satellites can provide. To convince space agencies to take action, coordinated activities are urgently needed to agree on target environments and to integrate in situ and satellite-derived measurements.

    • Victor Martinez-Vicente
    Comment
  • Floating plastic is accumulating in the five subtropical oceanic gyres, but little is known about their composition, sources, and fate. Monitoring has provided insight into persistence and accumulation processes in the North Pacific Ocean, but their relevance in other gyres is unknown. Identifying the sources of plastics, in all subtropical gyres, is necessary for cleanup efforts to be effective.

    • Laurent Lebreton
    Comment
  • The large quantities of plastics stored in landfills and dumpsites are often overlooked when discussing plastic pollution. Improperly managed waste disposal sites can leak plastics to the environment, requiring immediate action. Mitigation must be supported by research to quantify the scale of the problem and prioritize efforts.

    • Xunchang Fei
    • Yuliang Guo
    • Hongping He
    Comment
  • Environmental cycling of microplastics and nanoplastics is complex; fully understanding these pollutants is hindered by inconsistent methodologies and experimentation within a narrow scope. Consistent methods are needed to advance plastic research and policy within the context of global environmental change.

    • Michael S. Bank
    • Denise M. Mitrano
    • Yong Sik Ok
    Comment
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Research Highlights

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Reviews

  • Megadroughts can be defined as persistent, multi-year droughts that are exceptional compared with other regional events during the Common Era. This Review discusses palaeo reconstructions of megadroughts over the past 2,000 years, and outlines the impact of anthropogenic forcing on the severity and frequency of observed and projected events.

    • Benjamin I. Cook
    • Jason E. Smerdon
    • Erika K. Wise
    Review Article
  • Iron oxide–apatite ore deposits are a key source of iron and contain a number of critical technology metals needed for the sustainable energy transition. This Review explores the hydrothermal, magmatic and tectonic conditions required to efficiently enrich iron-rich minerals in the upper crust.

    • Martin Reich
    • Adam C. Simon
    • Laura D. Bilenker
    Review Article
  • Greenhouse gas forcing has increased ocean heat content, with large impacts on the Earth system. This Review outlines observed and projected global and regional changes, revealing an observed 0–2,000 m global increase of 351.4 ± 59.8 ZJ from 1958 to 2019, and a projected increase of 1,874 [1,637–2,109] ZJ by 2100 under SSP5-8.5.

    • Lijing Cheng
    • Karina von Schuckmann
    • Xiaopei Lin
    Review Article
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Perspectives

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