Oldenburg researchers want to use spider webs to get an overview of plastic particles in the air. A lot gets stuck on the threads, especially on busy roads.

Numerous small plastic particles collect in spider webs. This was proven by three researchers from the University of Oldenburg on roads with different levels of traffic.

The particles include above all the plastic PET, presumably from textiles, as well as the abrasion from car tires and polyvinyl chloride (PVC), according to a statement. The amount of microplastics depended on the location. Spider webs are a simple and cheap way to monitor air pollution from microplastics in the city and to identify particularly polluted areas. The results have been published in the journal Science of the Total Environment.

So far, spider webs have never been examined for microplastics

“Spiders are found all over the world, including in cities. Their sticky nets are an ideal trap for everything that floats through the air,” says study leader Barbara Scholz-Böttcher, microplastics expert at the university’s Institute for Chemistry and Biology of the Sea. It is known from various studies that pollutants such as heavy metals get caught in the webs. “So far, however, no one has examined spider webs for microplastics,” says the geochemist.

In order to find out whether microplastics can be detected in cobwebs and whether there are certain distribution patterns, nets were collected from the upper area of ​​semi-covered bus stops. “All the spider webs were contaminated with microplastics,” reports Isabel Goßmann, who was involved in the study as part of her doctorate. In some cases, the plastic content even made up a good tenth of the total weight of a net. Almost 90 percent of the plastic was made up of PET, PVC and car tire material. The proportion of tire wear fluctuated greatly – depending on the traffic.

“Our results also indicate that abrasion from road markings is another important source of microplastic pollution along roads,” explains Scholz-Böttcher. The researchers also found evidence that the small plastic particles accumulate surprisingly quickly in the spider webs. According to Scholz-Böttcher, the method offers a simple alternative to time-consuming measurements to comparatively assess the microplastic content of the immediate ambient air.