April 22, 2022

Riverine Plastic Pollution: Sampling and Analysis Methods


Riverine plastic pollution has been found in all major U.S. rivers, but the exact amount of plastic being released to the oceans has not been quantified. Field studies conducted in U.S. rivers have used a range of sampling and analysis techniques and rarely measured the mass of the plastic collected. Measurements of riverine plastic pollution are needed to calibrate and validate models used to estimate the U.S. riverine plastic emissions to the oceans. This report surveys measurement methods used to quantify riverine pollution and current estimates of U.S. riverine plastic pollution from measurements and models. Measurement methods include field sampling and laboratory analysis. Field sampling methods are described for large (macro) and small (micro) plastic particles. Laboratory analysis methods are described for macro and microplastic with an emphasis on the detailed characterization processes of microplastics. Waterborne leachate analysis is also briefly described. Three models are described that estimate plastic pollution based on mismanaged plastic waste in the river catchment basins. The models were validated and calibrated with global data sources. The data sources were predominantly outside of the U.S., where the magnitude and composition of plastic pollution is different than what is found in U.S. rivers. Comprehensive measurements of riverine plastics are needed not only to characterize the riverine plastic pollution, but also parameterize and validate models of plastic fate and transport. This report also describes five key U.S. rivers that span a range of sizes and environmental conditions that could be sampled to obtain data to support characterization and model development of plastic pollution from rivers to oceans. Sampling and analysis protocol recommendations are made to ensure the highest quality of data are collected in the five rivers.

Published: April 22, 2022


Branch R.A., Z. Yang, B. Maurer, L.M. Miller, and L. Garavelli. 2022. Riverine Plastic Pollution: Sampling and Analysis Methods Richland, WA: Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. doi:10.2172/1863833.