October 12, 2023

Riverine Plastic Pollution: Field Sampling Protocol and Implementation in U.S. Rivers


Riverine plastic pollution is increasingly being recognized as a serious environmental concern. The flux of plastic from U.S. rivers into the oceans is estimated to be on the order of hundreds of tons per year. Plastic pollution has been detected in all major U.S. rivers but the observations did not measure metrics that could be used for mass flux calculations. The Department of Energy is addressing the problem of riverine plastic pollution with the Waterborne Plastics Resource Assessment and Debris Characterization (WaterPACT) project. Phase one of the WaterPACT project includes the development of a sampling protocol, field sampling events that implement the protocol, and numerical modeling studies. The field sampling will quantify and characterize the plastic pollution and the numerical modeling studies will analyze the movement of the plastic pollution by rivers. This report details the WaterPACT sampling protocol and its implementation in four major U.S. rivers. The WaterPACT sampling protocol was implemented in the Mississippi, Columbia, Delaware, and Los Angeles rivers with at least three sampling events in each river. The rivers represent four types ranging from the large Mississippi with its vast agricultural watershed to the small Los Angeles with its highly engineered urban waterway. The three sampling events covered a variety of discharge conditions from low drought flow to extreme storm events. The data obtained by the WaterPACT sampling of the four rivers will be combined to provide an invaluable dataset to researchers studying the source and chemical composition of plastic pollution and modelers estimating the flux of plastic being transported to and released into the oceans.

Published: October 12, 2023


Branch R.A., Z. Yang, B. Maurer, and A. Chamas. 2023. Riverine Plastic Pollution: Field Sampling Protocol and Implementation in U.S. Rivers Richland, WA: Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.