Microplastic lab

I have been researching the impacts of anthropogenic marine debris and microplastics for several years and I can’t seem to visit a beach now without pocketing the little fragments of litter I see – tiny styrofoam balls, fragments of beach toys, wisps of fishing line, etc.

Introductory video on microplastic pollution

I wanted to make a fun lab with a hands-on element to explore the types of litter that make it into the coastal environment and can impact organisms that live there by entanglement, disturbance, and ingestion.

We can use sophisticated tools to identify plastics (see the FTIR video at the bottom of the page) but we can also gather information by examining the properties of plastics and their densities.

Follow the instructions in the document “Identifying-Plastics-Lab” below and make your best effort at the Microplastics Kitchen Lab. If you’re living in dorms or limited in your access to materials, just do what you can with what’s available to you.

Identifying unknown polymer types from marine debris can be accomplished with attenuated total reflectance Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy (ATR FT-IR).
See a brief demonstration in the video above.