Beaches are known as hotspots for the accumulation of plastic debris and are widely used for monitoring marine litter on a global scale. However, there is a significant knowledge gap regarding temporal trends in marine plastic pollution. Moreover, existing studies on beach plastics and popular monitoring protocols only provide count data. Consequently, it is not possible to monitor marine litter based on weights, which hampers the further application of beach plastic data. To address these gaps, we conducted an analysis of spatial and temporal trends in plastic abundance and composition using OSPAR beach litter monitoring data from 2001 to 2020. We established size and weight ranges for 75 (macro-)plastic categories to estimate the total plastic weight, enabling us to investigate plastic compositions. While the amount of plastic litter exhibits significant spatial variation, most individual beaches displayed notable temporal trends. The spatial variation in composition is primarily attributed to differences in total plastic abundance. We describe the compositions of beach plastics using generic probability density functions (PDFs) for item size and weight. Our trend analysis, method for estimating plastic weight from count data, and PDFs for beached plastic debris represent novel contributions to the field of plastic pollution science.
- Environmental pollution
- Litter diversity
- Marine environment
- Probability density functions