The colours of the ocean plastics

by Elisa Martí, Cecilia Martin, Matteo Galli, Fidel Echevarría, Carlos M. Duarte, Andrés Cózar
Research article Year: 2020 ISSN: 0013-936X DOI: 10.1021/acs.est.9b06400


Martí, E., Martin, C., Galli, M., Echevarría, F., Duarte, C. M., & Cózar, A. (2020). The colors of the ocean plastics. Environmental science & technology54(11), 6594-6601.


Characterization of the color of the plastic is often included in studies on plastic pollution. However, the comparability and relevance of this information is limited by methodology or observer subjectivity. Based on the analysis of thousands of floating plastic fragments from a global collection, here we propose a systematic semiautomatic method to analyze colors by using a reference palette of 120 Pantone colors. The most abundant colors were white and transparent/translucent (47%), yellow and brown (26%), and blue-like (9%). The white color increased in the smallest pieces (<5 mm) and far from coastal sources (>500 km). Both fragmentation and discolouration of ocean plastics may occur because of longer exposure time to sunlight in nature. In addition, yellow items peaked at around 1 cm and brown colors at around 1 mm, supporting the notion that yellowing precedes tanning in the aging process, which is paralleled by fragmentation. Apart from the effects of the weathering, our results suggest a second-order modulation of the color distributions of marine microplastics by the selective action of visual predators. The present work provides methodological tools and a wide empirical background to further the interpretation and applicability of the color information on ocean plastics.