Scottish Microplastic Research Group


The Scottish Microplastic Research Group is a Community Project under the MASTS Marine Biodiversity, Function & Services Theme. 


Co-Chair: Dr Brian Quinn, University of the West of Scotland (UWS)

Co-Chair: Dr Marie Russell, Marine Scotland Science (MSS)



The term microplastic refers to pieces of plastic smaller than 5 mm in size.  As with other plastic items they are persistent and have been found ubiquitously throughout the aquatic (particularly marine) environment. Preliminary (unpublished) data has shown that in Scotland microplastics have been found in the Firths of Clyde and Forth. Their potential impacts on organisms and interaction with other marine contaminants remain largely unknown. The area of microplastics in the environment is still very much an emerging area of research with many knowledge gaps relating to their sources, abundance, types, effects and impacts.

The SMRG is a formal body under the MASTS umbrella comprising of all of the Scottish research groups working on the various aspects of microplastics, for the development of a cohesive research strategy to provide authoritative advice to the Scottish Government. To communicate effectively between groups working within this field, avoiding research replication and to ensure method development, sampling strategies & locations and quality control are harmonised to produce data suitable for submission under the relevant legislative frameworks (OSPAR, MSFD).

  • To develop a more cohesive approach to research in the area of microplastics throughout Scotland
  • To undertake research in collaboration with government organisations involved in regulation (e.g. MSS & SEPA) to help inform policy
  • Establish baseline data on the current status of microplastic pollution in Scotland
  • Use this group as a basis for applying for research funding (e.g. European Commission H2020)
  • Knowledge transfer to public/industry representatives
  • To bring Scotland to the forefront of this research field

We advocate a very inclusive membership with currently over 60 recipients on our mailing list from academia (all of the Scottish HEIs represented), several NGOs (including Marine Conservation Society and Fauna & Flora Int.) and government organisations (MSS, SEPA, DEFRA). We are actively seeking engagement with international organisations working within the same field (e.g. OSPAR), with individuals who are leaders in the field both in the UK and internationally and potentially with industry partners.

Deliverables (or SMART Objectives)

Short Term:

  • Development of a database to capture current research on microplastics in Scotland to contribute to the OSPAR  Intercessional Correspondence Group on Marine Litter (ICGML)
  • Development of publications and protocols for the collection and examination of sediment, water and biological samples for the presence of microplastics.
  • Annual workshop to be undertaken in conjunction with MASTS annual science meeting
  • Establishment of a polymer material library to aid with plastic identification for use by the group

Long Term:

  • Establish a quality assurance programme to ensure comparability of results and that the results will be acceptable for inclusion in national and international databases, with the potential inclusion in a QUASIMEME programme for microplastics
    • Submission of data to the relevant Data Archive Centre (DAC) operated by the appropriate agency (e.g. British Oceanographic Data Centre (BODC)) national database for contaminants (MERMAN). From this the information gathered can be used for legislative drivers (WFD, MSFD, OSPAR)
    • Publically accessible data through the Marine Scotland Science interactive map or NMPi website
    • Funding applications to larger international funding bodies (e.g. European Commission H2020)
    • Development of an outreach, public engagement and impact on society strategy
SMRG Members:
  • Edinburgh Napier University
  • European Marine Energy Centre (EMEC)
  • Heriot Watt University - see more
  • University of the Highlands and Islands - see more
  • University of the West of Scotland - see more
  • University of Glasgow - see more
  • Marine Conservation Society
  • Marine Management Organisation
  • Marine Scotland Science (MSS) - see more
  • Natural History Museum
  • Plymouth University
  • Scottish Environmental Protection Agency (SEPA)
  • The Fisheries Research Services (FRS) Marine Laboratory
  • The Open University
  • University of Aberdeen
  • University of St Andrews
  • University of Stirling
  • University of Strathclyde
  • Fauna & Flora International
  • Department of Energy & Climate Change (DECC)
  • Department of Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (DEFRA)
  • Others - see more


A new paper published as part of the BASEMAN project ‘Reference database design for the automated analysis of microplastic samples based on FTIR spectroscopy’  Of particular interest a very comprehensive spectral library (334 materials) in the supplementary material, which can be downloaded and added as a custom library to your software to compare unknown spectra against. It’s all open access and fantastic to have some progress on standardising FTIR interpretation and analysis.