Microplastics in the water: A threat to animals and human beings

“One word, plastics.”

That famous line from the 1967 Academy Award-winning film “The Graduate” has proven to be prophetic. Today, the world is choking on the stuff…literally. Scientists estimate that nearly 8 million metric tons of plastic are added to the world’s oceans yearly.1 The rise in plastic waste is so dramatic that these gyres have earned creative names – from oceanic “trash vortexes” to the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch.”2

Unlike much larger plastic items that litter the globe and ensnare everything from sea turtles to whales, microplastics are deadly in their minuteness. Composed of tiny bits of polyethylene (PE), polymethyl methacrylate (PMMA), nylon, polyethylene terephthalate (PET), and polypropylene (PP), these plastics are often added to creams, soaps, and toothpaste as exfoliants. When used, they easily wash down the drain, work their way through filtration plants, and pass into waterways and the ocean by the trillions each year.3 In addition to endangering hundreds of species of fish, wildlife, and the environment itself, microplastics are entering into the food chain.4 From beauty products to fish consumption, we are ingesting these microscopic pieces of plastic in unexpected quantities. According to one study, scientists found “anthropogenic debris” in about a quarter of the fish for sale in California.5

As the call to ban microplastics gains momentum around the globe, the obvious question is what is the best way to trace, identify, and classify microplastics in products, food, and the environment?

The primary analytical technique for identifying polymers and additives is infrared (IR) spectroscopy. PerkinElmer offers the most advanced instruments from the Spotlight 400 IR Imaging system to the portable, fast, and easy-to-use Spectrum Two™ IR. Outfitted with ready-made protocols, a materials library, and the unique Spectrum Touch™ software, the Spectrum Two instrument is the ideal choice for synthetic polymer identification in microplastics.

Preview PerkinElmer’s Solutions to Microplastic Monitoring and Polymer Identification:
  • On Demand Webinar: Microplastics in Rivers And The Marine Environment: Detection And Identification Using ATR-IR and Automated IR Microspectroscopy
  • Application Note: Quick identification of micro-plastics in seawater using IR microscopy
  • Application Note: Detection and Identification of Microplastic Particles in Cosmetic Formulations using IR Microscopy
  • Product Summary: Spectrum Two FT-IR
  • Product Summary: Spectrum Two N FT-IR
  • Product Summary: Spotlight 400 FT-IR Imaging system
1. Jambeck, Jenna R., Roland Geyer, Chris Wilcox, Theodore R. Siegler, Miriam Perryman, Anthony Andrady, Ramani Narayan, and Kara Lavender Law. "Plastic waste inputs from land into the ocean." Science. February 13, 2015. Accessed October 26, 2017. http://science.sciencemag.org/content/347/6223/768
2. "Great Pacific Garbage Patch." National Geographic Society. September 19, 2014. Accessed October 26, 2017. https://www.nationalgeographic.org/encyclopedia/great-pacific-garbage-patch/
3. Cózar, Andrés, Elisa Martí, Carlos M. Duarte, Juan García-de-Lomas, Erik Van Sebille, Thomas J. Ballatore, Victor M. Eguíluz, J. Ignacio González-Gordillo, Maria L. Pedrotti, Fidel Echevarría, Romain Troublè, and Xabier Irigoien. "The Arctic Ocean as a dead end for floating plastics in the North Atlantic branch of the Thermohaline Circulation." Science Advances. April 01, 2017. Accessed October 26, 2017. http://advances.sciencemag.org/content/3/4/e1600582
4. Louise Tosetto PhD Candidate Marine Ecology, Macquarie University, Culum Brown Associate Professor, Macquarie University, and Jane Williamson Associate Professor in Marine Ecology, Macquarie University. "How microplastics make their way up the ocean food chain into fish." The Conversation. October 25, 2017. Accessed October 26, 2017. http://theconversation.com/how-microplastics-make-their-way-up-the-ocean-food-chain-into-fish-69148
5. Rochman, Chelsea M., Akbar Tahir, Susan L. Williams, Dolores V. Baxa, Rosalyn Lam, Jeffrey T. Miller, Foo-Ching Teh, Shinta Werorilangi, and Swee J. Teh. "Anthropogenic debris in seafood: Plastic debris and fibers from textiles in fish and bivalves sold for human consumption." Scientific Reports. 2015. Accessed October 26, 2017. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4585829/

Product Information


For your convenience, an assortment of PerkinElmer’s solutions to microplastics monitoring and polymer identification is available for download upon completion of this form.