Marine microplastic: Preparation of relevant test materials for laboratory assessment of ecosystem impacts

Kühn, Susanne; Oyen, Albert Van; Booth, Andy M.; Meijboom, André; Franeker, Jan A. Van


Studies investigating the effects of plastic litter on marine biota have almost exclusively utilised pristine plastic materials that are homogeneous in polymer type, size, shape and chemical composition. This is particularly the case for microplastics (<5 mm), where collecting sufficient quantities from the marineenvironment for use in laboratory impacts studies is simply not feasible. Weathered plastics collected from the marine environment show considerable physical and chemical differences to pristine and postproduction consumer plastics. For this study, macroplastic litter was collected on a Dutch beach andcryo-milled to create a microplastic mixture for environmental impact assessments. The sample composition followed proportions of marine plastic litter types observed in an earlier large beach cleanup. Polymer composition of the sample was assessed by infrared spectroscopy (ATR-FTIR) and differentialscanning calorimetry analysis (DSC). The particle size distribution of the cryo-milled microplastics showed that particles 0.5e2.0mm represented 68% of mass, but smaller sizes (<2 mm) strongly dominated numerically. Inductively coupled plasma spectroscopy (ICP-MS and ICP-OES) analysis of the microplastic mixture revealed a broad range of metals and other elements (e.g. Al, Cd, Cr, Fe, Mg, Pb, S and Zn), representing common inorganic additives used as colorants, fillers and stabilisers. GC-MS analysis identified a broad range of organic plasticisers, stabilisers, antioxidants and flame retardants. Comparison of different analytical approaches showed that creation of a homogeneous microplastic mixture is possible, representing a first step in closing the gap between laboratory studies with pristine materials and realistic scenarios with weathered microplastic.