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Validation of ATR FT-IR to Identify Polymers of Plastic Marine Debris, Including Those Ingested by Marine Organisms

April 12, 2018

The paper identifies plastic debris as a pelagic threat to marine turtles, allows identification of plastic type and origin, and the quantification of plastic type most ingested by protected marine turtles.

Polymer identification of plastic marine debris can help identify its sources, degradation, and fate. We optimized and validated a fast, simple, and accessible technique, attenuated total reflectance Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy (ATR FT-IR), to identify polymers contained in plastic ingested by sea turtles. Spectra of consumer good items with known resin identification codes #1–6 and several #7 plastics were compared to standard and raw manufactured polymers. High temperature size exclusion chromatography measurements confirmed ATR FT-IR could differentiate these polymers. High-density (HDPE) and low-density polyethylene (LDPE) discrimination is challenging but a clear step-by-step guide is provided that identified 78 percent of ingested PE samples. The optimal cleaning methods consisted of wiping ingested pieces with water or cutting. Of 828 ingested plastics pieces from 50 Pacific sea turtles, 96 percent were identified by ATR FT-IR as HDPE, LDPE, unknown PE, polypropylene (PP), PE and PP mixtures, polystyrene, polyvinyl chloride, and nylon.


Jung MR, Horgen FD, Orski SV, Rodriguez CV, Beers KL, Balazs GH, Jones TT, Work TM, Brignac KC, Royer, S-J, et al. Validation of ATR FT-IR to Identify Polymers of Plastic Marine Debris, Including Those Ingested by Marine Organisms. (Published in Marine Pollution Bulletin). 

Last updated by Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center on 08/09/2022

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