Although ingestion of plastic by tubenosed seabirds has been documented regularly, identification of the polymer composition of these plastics has rarely been described. Polymer assessment may assist in identifying sources and may indicate risks from additives occurring in specific types of polymers. Using known test materials, two identification methods Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy and near infrared spectroscopy (FTIR and NIR) were compared. Although both methods were found to be similarly suitable for identification of plastic polymers, a significant difference was observed in identification of natural materials. FTIR frequently misclassified natural materials as being a synthetic polymer. Within our results, an 80% match score threshold functioned best to distinguish between natural items and synthetics. Using NIR, the historical variability of plastics ingested by northern fulmars (Fulmarus glacialis) from the Dutch sector of the North Sea was analysed for three time periods since the 1980s. For the more recent decade, variability between fulmars from different regions in the northeast Atlantic was investigated. Regional variation was further explored by analysing plastics obtained from the stomachs of southern hemisphere relatives of the fulmar (southern fulmar, cape petrel, snow petrel) and Wilson’s storm petrel. Results show that proportional abundance of polymer types in these seabirds is closely related to the plastic categories that they ingest (e.g. pellets, foam, fragments). The uptake of different plastic categories and related polymer types most likely reflects spatial and temporal variations in availability rather than ingestion preferences of the birds.