Rapid Polymer Identification of Fishing Gear using Raman Spectroscopy



Plastic pollution from fishing gear is a global problem that harms the environment. Recycling of damaged or abandoned fishing gear is one way of mitigating the issue, however the exact nature of the polymer must be known in order to identify the correct recycling stream. In this paper, the MacroRAM benchtop Raman spectrometer with remote BallProbe® is used to quickly identify plastics used in various gillnet samples. Raman spectroscopy is demonstrated to be an excellent technique for identifying not only different types of polymers, but also different variants within a polymer class and additives including pigments.

Plastic pollution is a global problem with harmful effects on ecosystems at all levels of the food web. The disposal of fishing gear specifically is a large contributor making up approximately 85% of plastic pollution found in marine environments.1 In addition, nylon fishing line and nets are some of the longest-lived plastics with lifetimes ranging in the hundreds of years.2 to help mitigate the problem of plastic pollution from fishing gear, organizations like Net Your Problem collect damaged or abandoned nets, organize and sort them, and ship them to facilities where they may be recycled into pellets for commercial use.3

A critical part of this process is accurately identifying the type of polymer the fishing net is composed of so that it may be sorted into the correct recycling stream (e.g. nylon, polypropylene, polyethylene). Nylon, in particular, can be challenging to identify definitively as there are multiple varieties of nylon that may be used in fishing gear. Unambiguously determining the exact type of nylon is an important step in the sorting process.


Raman spectroscopy has been demonstrated as an excellent technique for distinguishing between various types of polymers and within polymer classes, such as nylon. Raman spectra of nylon are unique enough that a high resolution Raman microscope is not required for definitive identification. Figure 1 shows spectra of reference nylon materials recorded with HORIBA’s MacroRAM benchtop Raman spectrometer. Each of the polymers display clearly distinguishable spectral fingerprints that allow for identification of unknown samples, including abandoned fishing gear.


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