Microplastic particles are ubiquitous in the environment, from the air we breathe to the food we eat. The key question with respect to these particles is to what extent they cause risks for the environment and human health. There is no risk assessment framework that takes into account the multidimensionality of microplastic particles against the background of numerous natural particles, which together encompass an infinite combination of sizes, shapes, densities and chemical signatures. We review the current tenets in defining microplastic characteristics and effects, emphasizing advances in the analysis of the diversity of microplastic particles. We summarize the unique characteristics of microplastic compared with those of other environmental particles, the main mechanisms of microplastic particle effects and the relevant dose metrics for these effects. To characterize risks consistently, we propose how exposure and effect thresholds can be aligned and quantified using probability density functions describing microplastic particle diversity.