Document Type

Honors Paper


Marc Zimmer

Publication Date



The increasing abundance of microplastic pollution in marine environments is a rising concern, and it has the potential to negatively affect the health and sustainability of marine organisms and ecosystems. Microplastics can harm organisms through a variety of chemical, biological, and physical mechanisms. The extent to which they are harmful varies greatly and is significantly dependent on the chemical and physical makeup of the plastic polymer. Due to this variability, it is important to characterize microplastic samples in various environments to better understand the risks associated with the debris in certain areas. Through field research, a spatial analysis of the nature of this plastic pollution was conducted across Cape Cod, Massachusetts. Samples were collected from shorelines on the Bass River, the Nantucket Sound, the Outer Cape, and the Cape Cod Bay. The microplastic samples were then run through a pyrolysis-GC-MS instrument to determine their chemical composition. The resulting mass spectra were analyzed to identify unique peak patterns and marker compounds, which confirmed the identity of the plastic polymers and additives that make up the various samples. Polypropylene made up most of the samples collected, at about 29% of the total sample pool. Polyethylene followed close behind at about 20%. Polyethylene terephthalate and resins both made up about 14%, cellulose made up 9%, polyvinyl chloride and polystyrene both made up made up 6%, and polyamides made up about 3%. The characterization of microplastic polymers from various locations on Cape Cod provides a glimpse into what types of plastics are polluting certain coastal environments. As microplastic research is a developing field, this component of polymer identification will add to the understanding of potential sources and risks of plastic pollution, paving the way for more indepth hypotheses to be tested.



The views expressed in this paper are solely those of the author.