A simple method for the extraction and identification of light density microplastics from soil

Zhang, Shaoliang; Yang, Xiaomei; Gertsen, Hennie; Peters, Piet; Salánki, Tamás; Geissen, Violette


This article introduces a simple and cost-saving method developed to extract, distinguish and quantify light density microplastics of polyethylene (PE) and polypropylene (PP) in soil. A floatation method using distilled water was used to extract the light density microplastics from soil samples. Microplastics and impurities were identified using a heating method (3–5 s at 130 °C). The number and size of particles were determined using a camera (Leica DFC 425) connected to a microscope (Leica wild M3C, Type S, simple light, 6.4 ×). Quantification of the microplastics was conducted using a developed model. Results showed that the floatation method was effective in extracting microplastics from soils, with recovery rates of approximately 90%. After being exposed to heat, the microplastics in the soil samples melted and were transformed into circular transparent particles while other impurities, such as organic matter and silicates were not changed by the heat. Regression analysis of microplastics weight and particle volume (a calculation based on image J software analysis) after heating showed the best fit (y = 1.14x + 0.46, R2 = 99%, p < 0.001). Recovery rates based on the empirical model method were > 80%. Results from field samples collected from North-western China prove that our method of repetitive floatation and heating can be used to extract, distinguish and quantify light density polyethylene microplastics in soils. Microplastics mass can be evaluated using the empirical model.