Test to detect and quantify microplastics in the environment

A new approach for the analysis of microplastics in environmental samples has been developed. This fluorescent staining method delivers a simple and sensitive way to highlight polymer fragments (particles or fibres) in marine sediments, from macro scale down to a few microns in size. The method is sensitive to the majority of plastics likely to be found and covers all common post-consumer plastics.




  • good selectivity for plastics
  • causes microplastics to become visible under blue light
  • dyes fragments from macro scale down to a few microns in size
  • relatively easy, rapid and inexpensive.

Plastic items break down into micro-sized fragments due to UV radiation, oxidation and mechanical forces, leading to their build up in the marine environment. The widespread use of plastic has led to a build-up of microplastics in varying sizes and types. Microplastics are ingested by a large range of organisms, threatening ecosystems and even human health. To understand the full impact of microplastics, simple, cost effective and standardised protocols, that can accurately and efficiently enumerate microplastics from a range of environments, need to be developed.

Currently available techniques for quantifying microplastic samples are time-consuming and inefficient. In contrast, this new development offers a simple way to selectively dye microplastics, leading to a more sensitive method of identification in a wide range of sizes, going down to just a few microns.



Scientific Reports 7, Article number: 44501, (2017). doi:10.1038/srep44501


Principal Investigator

Team led by Andrew Mayes.


Further Details

For more information on this licensing opportunity, please contact the IP Office.