Author(s): Browne MA, Galloway TS, Thompson RC
Abstract Share this page
Abstract The human population generates vast quantities of waste material. Macro (>1 mm) and microscopic (<1 mm) fragments of plastic debris represent a substantial contamination problem. Here, we test hypotheses about the influence of wind and depositional regime on spatial patterns of micro- and macro-plastic debris within the Tamar Estuary, UK. Debris was identified to the type of polymer using Fourier-transform infrared spectroscopy (FT-IR) and categorized according to density. In terms of abundance, microplastic accounted for 65\% of debris recorded and mainly comprised polyvinylchloride, polyester, and polyamide. Generally, there were greater quantities of plastic at downwind sites. For macroplastic, there were clear patterns of distribution for less dense items, while for microplastic debris, clear patterns were for denser material. Small particles of sediment and plastic are both likely to settle slowly from the water-column and are likely to be transported by the flow of water and be deposited in areas where the movements of water are slower. There was, however, no relationship between the abundance of microplastic and the proportion of clay in sediments from the strandline. These results illustrate how FT-IR spectroscopy can be used to identify the different types of plastic and in this case was used to indicate spatial patterns, demonstrating habitats that are downwind acting as potential sinks for the accumulation of debris.
This article was published in Environ Sci Technol
and referenced in Journal of Pollution Effects & Control