Microplastic Characterization by Infrared Spectroscopy

  • Jun-Li XuEmail author
  • Martin Hassellöv
  • Keping Yu
  • Aoife A. Gowen
Living reference work entry


A realistic risk assessment of microplastic pollution must stand on representative data on the abundance, size distribution, and chemical composition of polymers. Infrared spectroscopy is an indispensable tool for the analysis of microplastics (<5 mm). Spectral imaging, which provides simultaneous measurement of spatial (e.g., particle morphology) and spectroscopic information, is a promising approach toward automated microplastic analysis. This chapter aims at providing guidelines to assist with the analysis of spectral imaging data and summarizing the limitations and analytical challenges from a technical point of view. Topics, like automated particle selection for faster infrared mapping, spectral pre-processing to enhance signal quality, multivariate exploratory analysis, comprehensive reference spectral libraries, spectral matching approaches, and model-based classification, will be exposed and some possible strategies and solutions given and discussed. We will demonstrate how to identify microplastic species by using Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy data in a stepwise manner, with detailed MATLAB command line scripts freely available to be downloaded. The reader is guided through every step and oriented in order to adapt those strategies to the user’s individual case.


Microplastics Characterization Infrared spectroscopy Matlab 


  1. Anger PM, Von Der Esch E, Baumann T, Elsner M, Niessner R, Ivleva NP (2018) Raman microspectroscopy as a tool for microplastic particle analysis. TrAC Trends Anal Chem 109:214–226Google Scholar
  2. Araujo CF, Nolasco MM, Ribeiro AM, Ribeiro-Claro PJ (2018) Identification of microplastics using Raman spectroscopy: latest developments and future prospects. Water Res 142:426–440Google Scholar
  3. Avio CG, Gorbi S, Milan M, Benedetti M, Fattorini D, D’Errico G, Pauletto M, Bargelloni L, Regoli F (2015) Pollutants bioavailability and toxicological risk from microplastics to marine mussels. Environ Pollut 198:211–222Google Scholar
  4. Ballent A, Corcoran PL, Madden O, Helm PA, Longstaffe FJ (2016) Sources and sinks of microplastics in Canadian Lake Ontario nearshore, tributary and beach sediments. Mar Pollut Bull 110:383–395Google Scholar
  5. Barboza LGA, Lopes C, Oliveira P, Bessa F, Otero V, Henriques B, Raimundo J, Caetano M, Vale C, Guilhermino L (2020) Microplastics in wild fish from North East Atlantic Ocean and its potential for causing neurotoxic effects, lipid oxidative damage, and human health risks associated with ingestion exposure. Sci Total Environ 717:134625Google Scholar
  6. Barnes DK, Galgani F, Thompson RC, Barlaz M (2009) Accumulation and fragmentation of plastic debris in global environments. Philos Trans R Soc B: Biol Sci 364:1985–1998Google Scholar
  7. Brandon J, Goldstein M, Ohman MD (2016) Long-term aging and degradation of microplastic particles: comparing in situ oceanic and experimental weathering patterns. Mar Pollut Bull 110:299–308Google Scholar
  8. Browne MA, Galloway TS, Thompson RC (2010) Spatial patterns of plastic debris along estuarine shorelines. Environ Sci Technol 44:3404–3409Google Scholar
  9. Browne MA, Crump P, Niven SJ, Teuten E, Tonkin A, Galloway T, Thompson R (2011) Accumulation of microplastic on shorelines worldwide: sources and sinks. Environ Sci Technol 45:9175–9179Google Scholar
  10. Burger J, Gowen A (2011) Data handling in hyperspectral image analysis. Chemom Intell Lab Syst 108:13–22Google Scholar
  11. Carpenter EJ, Smith K (1972) Plastics on the Sargasso Sea surface. Science 175:1240–1241Google Scholar
  12. Chevallier S, Bertrand D, Kohler A, Courcoux P (2006) Application of PLS-DA in multivariate image analysis. J Chemom 20:221–229Google Scholar
  13. Claessens M, Van Cauwenberghe L, Vandegehuchte MB, Janssen CR (2013) New techniques for the detection of microplastics in sediments and field collected organisms. Mar Pollut Bull 70:227–233Google Scholar
  14. Cole M, Lindeque P, Halsband C, Galloway TS (2011) Microplastics as contaminants in the marine environment: a review. Mar Pollut Bull 62:2588–2597Google Scholar
  15. Cole M, Lindeque P, Fileman E, Halsband C, Goodhead R, Moger J, Galloway TS (2013) Microplastic ingestion by zooplankton. Environ Sci Technol 47:6646–6655Google Scholar
  16. Cole M, Webb H, Lindeque PK, Fileman ES, Halsband C, Galloway TS (2014) Isolation of microplastics in biota-rich seawater samples and marine organisms. Sci Rep 4:4528Google Scholar
  17. Comnea-Stancu IR, Wieland K, Ramer G, Schwaighofer A, Lendl B (2017) On the identification of rayon/viscose as a major fraction of microplastics in the marine environment: discrimination between natural and manmade cellulosic fibers using Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy. Appl Spectrosc 71:939–950Google Scholar
  18. Cooper DA, Corcoran PL (2010) Effects of mechanical and chemical processes on the degradation of plastic beach debris on the island of Kauai, Hawaii. Mar Pollut Bull 60:650–654Google Scholar
  19. Cózar A, Echevarría F, González-Gordillo JI, Irigoien X, Úbeda B, Hernández-León S, Palma ÁT, Navarro S, García-de-Lomas J, Ruiz A (2014) Plastic debris in the open ocean. Proc Natl Acad Sci 111:10239–10244Google Scholar
  20. Crichton EM, Noël M, Gies EA, Ross PS (2017) A novel, density-independent and FTIR-compatible approach for the rapid extraction of microplastics from aquatic sediments. Anal Methods 9:1419–1428Google Scholar
  21. Cutler DR, Edwards TC Jr, Beard KH, Cutler A, Hess KT, Gibson J, Lawler JJ (2007) Random forests for classification in ecology. Ecology 88:2783–2792Google Scholar
  22. Directive SF (2013) Guidance on monitoring of marine litter in European Seas.
  23. El-Azazy M (2018) Introductory chapter: infrared spectroscopy-A synopsis of the fundamentals and applications. In: Infrared spectroscopy-principles, advances, and applications. IntechOpen, LondonGoogle Scholar
  24. Enders K, Lenz R, Beer S, Stedmon CA (2017) Extraction of microplastic from biota: recommended acidic digestion destroys common plastic polymers. ICES J Mar Sci 74:326–331Google Scholar
  25. Eriksen M, Mason S, Wilson S, Box C, Zellers A, Edwards W, Farley H, Amato S (2013) Microplastic pollution in the surface waters of the Laurentian Great Lakes. Mar Pollut Bull 77:177–182Google Scholar
  26. Eriksen M, Lebreton LC, Carson HS, Thiel M, Moore CJ, Borerro JC, Galgani F, Ryan PG, Reisser J (2014) Plastic pollution in the world’s oceans: more than 5 trillion plastic pieces weighing over 250,000 tons afloat at sea. PLoS One 9:e111913Google Scholar
  27. Fischer D, Kaeppler A, Eichhorn K-J (2015) Identification of microplastics in the marine environment by Raman microspectroscopy and imaging. Am Lab 47:32–34Google Scholar
  28. Fischer EK, Paglialonga L, Czech E, Tamminga M (2016) Microplastic pollution in lakes and Lake shoreline sediments–a case study on Lake Bolsena and Lake Chiusi (Central Italy). Environ Pollut 213:648–657Google Scholar
  29. Foekema EM, De Gruijter C, Mergia MT, Van Franeker JA, Murk AJ, Koelmans AA (2013) Plastic in north sea fish. Environ Sci Technol 47:8818–8824Google Scholar
  30. Fotopoulou KN, Karapanagioti HK (2012) Surface properties of beached plastic pellets. Mar Environ Res 81:70–77Google Scholar
  31. Galgani F, Hanke G, Werner S, De Vrees L (2013) Marine litter within the European marine strategy framework directive. ICES J Mar Sci 70:1055–1064Google Scholar
  32. Gautam R, Vanga S, Ariese F, Umapathy S (2015) Review of multidimensional data processing approaches for Raman and infrared spectroscopy. EPJ Tech Instrum 2:8Google Scholar
  33. Giacomucci L, Raddadi N, Soccio M, Lotti N, Fava F (2020) Biodegradation of polyvinyl chloride plastic films by enriched anaerobic marine consortia. Mar Environ Res 158:104949Google Scholar
  34. Hartmann NB, Hüffer T, Thompson RC, Hassellöv M, Verschoor A, Daugaard AE, Rist S, Karlsson T, Brennholt N, Cole M (2019) Are we speaking the same language? Recommendations for a definition and categorization framework for plastic debris. ACS Environ Sci Technol 53(3):1039–1047Google Scholar
  35. Hendrickson E, Minor EC, Schreiner K (2018) Microplastic abundance and composition in western lake superior as determined via microscopy, Pyr-GC/MS, and FTIR. Environ Sci Technol 52:1787–1796Google Scholar
  36. Huerta Lwanga E, Gertsen H, Gooren H, Peters P, Salánki T, Van Der Ploeg M, Besseling E, Koelmans AA, Geissen V (2016) Microplastics in the terrestrial ecosystem: implications for Lumbricus terrestris (Oligochaeta, Lumbricidae). Environ Sci Technol 50:2685–2691Google Scholar
  37. Hufnagl B, Steiner D, Renner E, Löder M, Laforsch C, Lohninger H (2019) A methodology for the fast identification and monitoring of microplastics in environmental samples using random decision Forest classifiers. Anal Methods 11:2277–2285Google Scholar
  38. Huppertsberg S, Knepper TP (2018) Instrumental analysis of microplastics-benefits and challenges. Anal Bioanal Chem 410:6343–6352Google Scholar
  39. Imhof HK, Ivleva NP, Schmid J, Niessner R, Laforsch C (2013) Contamination of beach sediments of a subalpine lake with microplastic particles. Curr Biol 23:R867–R868Google Scholar
  40. Ivleva NP, Wiesheu AC, Niessner R (2017) Microplastic in aquatic ecosystems. Angew Chem Int Ed 56:1720–1739Google Scholar
  41. Jabeen K, Su L, Li J, Yang D, Tong C, Mu J, Shi H (2017) Microplastics and mesoplastics in fish from coastal and fresh waters of China. Environ Pollut 221:141–149Google Scholar
  42. Jung MR, Horgen FD, Orski SV, Rodriguez V, Beers KL, Balazs GH, Jones TT, Work TM, Brignac KC, Royer S-J (2018) Validation of ATR FT-IR to identify polymers of plastic marine debris, including those ingested by marine organisms. Mar Pollut Bull 127:704–716Google Scholar
  43. Kang J-H, Kwon OY, Lee K-W, Song YK, Shim WJ (2015) Marine neustonic microplastics around the southeastern coast of Korea. Mar Pollut Bull 96:304–312Google Scholar
  44. Kanhai LDK, Johansson C, Frias JPGL, Gardfeldt K, Thompson RC, O’Connor I (2019) Deep sea sediments of the Arctic Central Basin: a potential sink for microplastics. Deep-Sea Res I Oceanogr Res Pap 145:137–142Google Scholar
  45. Käppler A, Windrich F, Löder MG, Malanin M, Fischer D, Labrenz M, Eichhorn K-J, Voit B (2015) Identification of microplastics by FTIR and Raman microscopy: a novel silicon filter substrate opens the important spectral range below 1300 cm−1 for FTIR transmission measurements. Anal Bioanal Chem 407:6791–6801Google Scholar
  46. Käppler A, Fischer D, Oberbeckmann S, Schernewski G, Labrenz M, Eichhorn K-J, Voit B (2016) Analysis of environmental microplastics by vibrational microspectroscopy: FTIR, Raman or both? Anal Bioanal Chem 408:8377–8391Google Scholar
  47. Karlsson TM, Grahn H, Van Bavel B, Geladi P (2016) Hyperspectral imaging and data analysis for detecting and determining plastic contamination in seawater filtrates. J Near Infrared Spectrosc 24:141–149Google Scholar
  48. Karlsson TM, Vethaak AD, Almroth BC, Ariese F, Van Velzen M, Hassellöv M, Leslie HA (2017) Screening for microplastics in sediment, water, marine invertebrates and fish: method development and microplastic accumulation. Mar Pollut Bull 122:403–408Google Scholar
  49. Karlsson TM, Arneborg L, Broström G, Almroth BC, Gipperth L, Hassellöv M (2018a) The unaccountability case of plastic pellet pollution. Mar Pollut Bull 129:52–60Google Scholar
  50. Karlsson TM, Hassellöv M, Jakubowicz I (2018b) Influence of thermooxidative degradation on the in situ fate of polyethylene in temperate coastal waters. Mar Pollut Bull 135:187–194Google Scholar
  51. Karlsson TM, Kärrman A, Rotander A, Hassellöv M (2020) Comparison between manta trawl and in situ pump filtration methods, and guidance for visual identification of microplastics in surface waters. Environ Sci Pollut Res 27:5559–5571Google Scholar
  52. Kazour M, Jemaa S, El Rakwe M, Duflos G, Hermabassiere L, Dehaut A, Le Bihanic F, Cachot J, Cornille V, Rabhi K (2018) Juvenile fish caging as a tool for assessing microplastics contamination in estuarine fish nursery grounds. Environ Sci Pollut Res 27:1–12Google Scholar
  53. Kedzierski M, Falcou-Préfol M, Kerros ME, Henry M, Pedrotti ML, Bruzaud S (2019) A machine learning algorithm for high throughput identification of FTIR spectra: application on microplastics collected in the Mediterranean Sea. Chemosphere 234:242–251Google Scholar
  54. Kershaw P, Turra A, Galgani F (2019) Guidelines for the monitoring and assessment of plastic litter in the ocean-GESAMP reports and studies no. 99Google Scholar
  55. Kiefer J, Frank K, Schuchmann HP (2011) Attenuated total reflection infrared (ATR-IR) spectroscopy of a water-in-oil emulsion. Appl Spectrosc 65:1024–1028Google Scholar
  56. Koelmans AA, Bakir A, Burton GA, Janssen CR (2016) Microplastic as a vector for chemicals in the aquatic environment: critical review and model-supported reinterpretation of empirical studies. Environ Sci Technol 50:3315–3326Google Scholar
  57. Koenig JL (2001) Infrared and Raman spectroscopy of polymers. iSmithers Rapra Publishing, ShrewsburyGoogle Scholar
  58. Krimm S, Liang C, Sutherland G (1956) Infrared spectra of high polymers. V. Polyvinyl alcohol. J Polym Sci 22:227–247Google Scholar
  59. Lefebvre C, Saraux C, Heitz O, Nowaczyk A, Bonnet D (2019) Microplastics FTIR characterisation and distribution in the water column and digestive tracts of small pelagic fish in the Gulf of lions. Mar Pollut Bull 142:510–519Google Scholar
  60. Lehtiniemi M, Hartikainen S, Näkki P, Engström-Öst J, Koistinen A, Setälä O (2018) Size matters more than shape: ingestion of primary and secondary microplastics by small predators. Food Webs 17:e00097Google Scholar
  61. Lenz R, Enders K, Stedmon CA, Mackenzie DM, Nielsen TG (2015) A critical assessment of visual identification of marine microplastic using Raman spectroscopy for analysis improvement. Mar Pollut Bull 100:82–91Google Scholar
  62. Li J, Hibbert DB, Fuller S, Vaughn G (2006) A comparative study of point-to-point algorithms for matching spectra. Chemom Intell Lab Syst 82:50–58Google Scholar
  63. Liebezeit G, Dubaish F (2012) Microplastics in beaches of the East Frisian islands Spiekeroog and Kachelotplate. Bull Environ Contam Toxicol 89:213–217Google Scholar
  64. Löder MGJ, Kuczera M, Mintenig S, Lorenz C, Gerdts G (2015) Focal plane array detector-based micro-Fourier-transform infrared imaging for the analysis of microplastics in environmental samples. Environ Chem 12:563–581Google Scholar
  65. Löder MG, Imhof HK, Ladehoff M, Löschel LA, Lorenz C, Mintenig S, Piehl S, Primpke S, Schrank I, Laforsch C (2017) Enzymatic purification of microplastics in environmental samples. Environ Sci Technol 51:14283–14292Google Scholar
  66. Maaghloud H, Houssa R, Ouansafi S, Bellali F, El Bouqdaoui K, Charouki N, Fahde A (2020) Ingestion of microplastics by pelagic fish from the Moroccan Central Atlantic coast. Environ Pollut 261:114194Google Scholar
  67. Markic A, Niemand C, Bridson JH, Mazouni-Gaertner N, Gaertner J-C, Eriksen M, Bowen M (2018) Double trouble in the South Pacific subtropical gyre: increased plastic ingestion by fish in the oceanic accumulation zone. Mar Pollut Bull 136:547–564Google Scholar
  68. Mcdermid KJ, Mcmullen TL (2004) Quantitative analysis of small-plastic debris on beaches in the Hawaiian archipelago. Mar Pollut Bull 48:790–794Google Scholar
  69. Mecozzi M, Pietroletti M, Monakhova YB (2016) FTIR spectroscopy supported by statistical techniques for the structural characterization of plastic debris in the marine environment: application to monitoring studies. Mar Pollut Bull 106:155–161Google Scholar
  70. Mintenig S, Löder M, Primpke S, Gerdts G (2019) Low numbers of microplastics detected in drinking water from ground water sources. Sci Total Environ 648:631–635Google Scholar
  71. Monnier GF (2018) A review of infrared spectroscopy in microarchaeology: methods, applications, and recent trends. J Archaeol Sci Rep 18:806–823Google Scholar
  72. Mukherjee S, Martínez-González J, Dowling D, Gowen A (2018) Predictive modelling of the water contact angle of surfaces using attenuated total reflection–Fourier transform infrared (ATR-FTIR) chemical imaging and partial least squares regression (PLSR). Analyst 143:3729–3740Google Scholar
  73. Naidoo T, Glassom D, Smit AJ (2015) Plastic pollution in five urban estuaries of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. Mar Pollut Bull 101:473–480Google Scholar
  74. Nuelle M-T, Dekiff JH, Remy D, Fries E (2014) A new analytical approach for monitoring microplastics in marine sediments. Environ Pollut 184:161–169Google Scholar
  75. Pearson K (1901) Principal components analysis. London Edinburgh Dublin Philos Mag J Sci 6:559Google Scholar
  76. Phuong NN, Poirier L, Pham QT, Lagarde F, Zalouk-Vergnoux A (2018) Factors influencing the microplastic contamination of bivalves from the French Atlantic coast: location, season and/or mode of life? Mar Pollut Bull 129:664–674Google Scholar
  77. Qu X, Su L, Li H, Liang M, Shi H (2018) Assessing the relationship between the abundance and properties of microplastics in water and in mussels. Sci Total Environ 621:679–686Google Scholar
  78. Rajakumar K, Sarasvathy V, Chelvan AT, Chitra R, Vijayakumar C (2009) Natural weathering studies of polypropylene. J Polym Environ 17:191Google Scholar
  79. Reddy MS, Basha S, Adimurthy S, Ramachandraiah G (2006) Description of the small plastics fragments in marine sediments along the Alang-Sosiya ship-breaking yard, India. Estuar Coast Shelf Sci 68:656–660Google Scholar
  80. Renner G, Schmid T, Schram J (2017) Characterization and quantification of microplastics by infrared spectroscopy. Compr Anal Chem 75:67–118Google Scholar
  81. Renner G, Schmidt TC, Schram J (2018) Analytical methodologies for monitoring micro (nano) plastics: which are fit for purpose? Curr Opin Environ Sci Health 1:55–61Google Scholar
  82. Renner G, Schmidt TC, Schram J (2019) Automated rapid & intelligent microplastics mapping by FTIR microscopy: a Python–based workflow. MethodsXGoogle Scholar
  83. Rinnan Å, Van Den Berg F, Engelsen SB (2009) Review of the most common pre-processing techniques for near-infrared spectra. TrAC Trends Anal Chem 28:1201–1222Google Scholar
  84. Silva AB, Bastos AS, Justino CI, Da Costa JP, Duarte AC, Rocha-Santos TA (2018) Microplastics in the environment: challenges in analytical chemistry-a review. Anal Chim Acta 1017:1–19Google Scholar
  85. Tagg AS, Sapp M, Harrison JP, Ojeda JSJ (2015) Identification and quantification of microplastics in wastewater using focal plane array-based reflectance micro-FT-IR imaging. Anal Chem 87:6032–6040Google Scholar
  86. Tammer M (2004) G. Sokrates: infrared and Raman characteristic group frequencies: tables and charts. Springer, Wiley, ChichesterGoogle Scholar
  87. Uurasjärvi E, Hartikainen S, Setälä O, Lehtiniemi M, Koistinen A (2020) Microplastic concentrations, size distribution, and polymer types in the surface waters of a northern European lake. Water Environ Res 92:149–156Google Scholar
  88. Vianello A, Boldrin A, Guerriero P, Moschino V, Rella R, Sturaro A, Da Ros L (2013) Microplastic particles in sediments of Lagoon of Venice, Italy: first observations on occurrence, spatial patterns and identification. Estuar Coast Shelf Sci 130:54–61Google Scholar
  89. Von Friesen LW, Granberg ME, Hassellöv M, Gabrielsen GW, Magnusson K (2019) An efficient and gentle enzymatic digestion protocol for the extraction of microplastics from bivalve tissue. Mar Pollut Bull 142:129–134Google Scholar
  90. Von Moos N, Burkhardt-Holm P, Köhler A (2012) Uptake and effects of microplastics on cells and tissue of the blue mussel Mytilus edulis L. after an experimental exposure. Environ Sci Technol 46:11327–11335Google Scholar
  91. Wang G, Karnes J, Bunker CE, Geng ML (2006) Two-dimensional correlation coefficient mapping in gas chromatography: jet fuel classification for environmental analysis. J Mol Struct 799:247–252Google Scholar
  92. Wright SL, Thompson RC, Galloway TS (2013) The physical impacts of microplastics on marine organisms: a review. Environ Pollut 178:483–492Google Scholar
  93. Xu J-L, Gowen AA (2019) Investigation of plasticizer aggregation problem in casein based biopolymer using chemical imaging. Talanta 193:128–138Google Scholar
  94. Xu J-L, Riccioli C, Sun D-W (2017) Comparison of hyperspectral imaging and computer vision for automatic differentiation of organically and conventionally farmed salmon. J Food Eng 196:170–182Google Scholar
  95. Xu J-L, Gowen AA, Sun D-W (2018) Time series hyperspectral chemical imaging (HCI) for investigation of spectral variations associated with water and plasticizers in casein based biopolymers. J Food Eng 218:88–105Google Scholar
  96. Xu J-L, Thomas KV, Luo Z, Gowen AA (2019) FTIR and Raman imaging for microplastics analysis: state of the art, challenges and prospects. TrAC Trends Anal Chem 119:115629Google Scholar
  97. Zbyszewski M, Corcoran PL, Hockin A (2014) Comparison of the distribution and degradation of plastic debris along shorelines of the Great Lakes, North America. J Great Lakes Res 40:288–299Google Scholar
  98. Zhu Z-L, Wang S-C, Zhao F-F, Wang S-G, Liu F-F, Liu G-Z (2019) Joint toxicity of microplastics with triclosan to marine microalgae Skeletonema costatum. Environ Pollut 246:509–517Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2020

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jun-Li Xu
    • 1
    Email author
  • Martin Hassellöv
    • 2
  • Keping Yu
    • 3
  • Aoife A. Gowen
    • 1
  1. 1.School of Biosystems and Food EngineeringUniversity College DublinDublinIreland
  2. 2.Department of Marine SciencesUniversity of GothenburgGöteborgSweden
  3. 3.Global Information and Telecommunication InstituteWaseda UniversityShinjukuJapan

Section editors and affiliations

  • João Pinto da Costa
    • 1
  • Armando da Costa Duarte
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of Chemistry and Centre for Environmental and Marine StudiesUniversity of AveiroAveiroPortugal
  2. 2.Department of Chemistry & CESAMUniversity of AveiroAveiroPortugal

Personalised recommendations