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Journal of Arid Land  2022, Vol. 14 Issue (8): 910-924    DOI: 10.1007/s40333-022-0025-9
Research article     
Occurrence, sources, and relationships of soil microplastics with adsorbed heavy metals in the Ebinur Lake Basin, Northwest China
ZHANG Zhaoyong1,*(), GUO Jieyi2,3, WANG Pengwei2,3
1School of Environment and Surveying Engineering, Suzhou University, Suzhou 234000, China
2College of Resource and Environmental Sciences, Xinjiang University, Urumqi 830046, China
3Key Laboratory of Oasis Ecology, Ministry of Education, Xinjiang University, Urumqi 830046, China
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There is a lack of research on soil microplastics in arid oases considering the rapid economic development of northwestern China. Here, we studied the occurrence and sources of microplastics in soil, as well as the relationships between microplastics and adsorbed heavy metals in the Ebinur Lake Basin, a typical arid oasis in China. Results showed that (1) the average microplastic content in all soil samples was 36.15 (±3.27) mg/kg. The contents of microplastics at different sampling sites ranged from 3.89 (±1.64) to 89.25 (±2.98) mg/kg. Overall, the proportions of various microplastic shapes decreased in the following order: film (54.25%)>fiber (18.56%)>particle (15.07%)>fragment (8.66%)>foam (3.46%); (2) among all microplastic particles, white particles accounted for the largest proportion (52.93%), followed by green (24.15%), black (12.17%), transparent (7.16%), and yellow particles (3.59%). The proportions of microplastic particle size ranges across all soil samples decreased in the following order: 1000-2000 µm (40.88%)>500-1000 µm (26.75%)>2000-5000 µm (12.30%)>100-500 µm (12.92%)>0-100 µm (7.15%). FTIR (Fourier transform infrared) analyses showed that polyethylene terephthalate (PET), polypropylene (PP), polycarbonate (PC), polyethylene (PE), and polystyrene (PS) occurred in the studied soil; (3) random forest predictions showed that industrial and agricultural production activities and the discharge of domestic plastic waste were related to soil microplastic pollution, in which agricultural plastic film was the most important factor in soil pollution in the study area; and (4) seven heavy metals extracted from microplastics in the soil samples showed significant positive correlations with soil pH, EC, total salt, N, P, and K contents (P<0.01), indicating that these soil factors could significantly affect the contents of heavy metals carried by soil microplastics. This research demonstrated that the contents of soil microplastics are lower than other areas of the world, and they mainly come from industrial and agricultural activities of the Ebinur Lake Basin.

Key wordsoccurrence characteristics      source analysis      soil microplastics      heavy metals      Ebinur Lake Basin     
Received: 29 April 2022      Published: 30 August 2022
Corresponding Authors: ZHANG Zhaoyong     E-mail:
Cite this article:

ZHANG Zhaoyong, GUO Jieyi, WANG Pengwei. Occurrence, sources, and relationships of soil microplastics with adsorbed heavy metals in the Ebinur Lake Basin, Northwest China. Journal of Arid Land, 2022, 14(8): 910-924.

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Fig. 1 Soil sampling sites in the Ebinur Lake Basin, Northwest China
Fig. 2 Morphology of soil microplastics in the Ebinur Lake Basin. (a), film; (b), fragment; (c), fiber; (d), fragment; (e), foam; (f), particle; (g), film; (h), particle.
Fig. 3 Soil microplastic colors in the Ebinur Lake Basin
Fig. 4 Particle size classification of soil microplastics in the Ebinur Lake Basin
Microplastic type
/land use type
Sample number Abundance
Fiber 120 21.51±2.14a 15.16±1.29a 0.86-68.56 14.13±1.89 18.56
Film 120 15.15±2.01b 18.62±2.34b 0.49-32.17 15.62±3.23 54.25
Fragment 120 26.54±1.24c 20.16±2.54c 1.25-40.56 22.54±3.54 8.66
Foam 120 35.74±1.65d 30.15±3.21d 3.25-50.14 26.23±4.23 3.46
Granular 120 30.55±2.35e 34.45±2.45e 6.61-20.19 35.41±2.61 15.07
Farmland 60 46.54±1.58f 45.13±2.3f 2.91-68.56 28.27±4.23 59.67
Woodland 30 36.25±1.89g 34.17±3.21g 3.65-50.14 36.16±2.32 20.15
Desert 30 35.15±2.14h 29.15±1.89h 2.64-40.27 33.32±2.52 20.18
Table 1 Statistical characteristics of soil microplastics in the Ebinur Lake Basin
Fig. 5 FTIR (Fourier transform infrared) spectra of soil microplastics in the Ebinur Lake Basin. (a), polyethylene terephthalate (PET) type; (b), polypropylene (PP) type; (c), polycarbonate (PC) type; (d) polyethylene (PE) type; (e) polystyrene (PS) type.
Fig. 6 Importance ranking of random forest variables. Film-a, agricultural film use; GDP, regional gross domestic product; Industrial-v, industrial GDP; Domestic-c, domestic sewage discharge; COD-c, chemical oxygen demand of industrial wastewater; Industrial-s, industrial wastewater discharge; Corn-p, corn sown area; Cotton-p, cotton sown area; %IncMSE, increase in mean squared error.
Region/land use type Component Shape Particle size Abundance (n/kg) Reference
Australia/industrial land PE, PVC, PS / <1 mm 300-67,500 Yang et al. (2021)
Iran/cultivated land PE Fragment 40-740 μm 67-400 Rezaei et al. (2019)
Chile/cultivated land / Fiber <4 mm 600-10,400 Corradini et al. (2019)
Germany/cultivated land PE, PS Debris, film <5 mm 0.34±0.36 Piehl et al. (2018)
USA/green space PE, PS Fiber <5 mm 334-3068 Helcoski et al. (2020)
Switzerland/beach PE, PP / <2 mm 0.0-55.5 Scheurer and Bigalke (2018)
Mexico/green space PE Particle 10-50 μm 870±190 Huerta et al. (2017)
Yunnan/cultivated land / Fiber 1.00-0.05 mm 7100-42,960 Zhang and Liu (2018)
Zhejiang/cultivated land PE, PP Debris, fiber <5 mm 0-2760 Zhou et al. (2020)
Heilongjiang/cultivated land PE Film <5 mm 0-800 Zhang et al. (2020a)
Guangxi/cultivated land PP, PE, PET Debris, fiber <5 mm 5.0-549.9 Zhang et al. (2020b)
Shaanxi/cultivated land PS, PE, PP Fiber, particle <5 mm 1430-3410 Ding et al. (2020)
Hubei/cultivated land PA, PP Fiber, particle <0.2 mm 320-12,560 Chen et al. (2020)
Shandong/beach PE, PP, PS Foam, debris <5 mm 1.3-14,712.5 Zhou et al. (2016)
Hebei/beach / Particle, fragment 1.56±0.63 mm 0-634 Lv et al. (2019)
Shanghai/cultivated land PP, PE Fiber <1 mm 10.3±0.2 Liu et al. (2018)
Ebinur Lake Basin PP, PE, PVC Foam, debris, fiber, film <5 mm 36.15 This research
Table 2 Abundance of soil microplastics in China and worldwide
Soil variable Abundance Content Color Cu Ni Cd Pb Cr Mn Co
pH 0.49 0.37 0.64 0.55** 0.56** 0.64** 0.68** 0.61** 0.75** 0.80**
EC 0.41 0.50 0.31 0.56** 0.52** 0.60** 0.58** 0.53** 0.56** 0.61**
Total salt 0.42 0.36 0.28 0.51** 0.61** 0.62** 0.57** 0.53** 0.52** 0.49*
Soil moisture -0.85** -0.42** 0.41 -0.31* -0.29* -0.33* -0.26* -0.19* -0.42* -0.33*
N 0.56** 0.52** 0.54* 0.58** 0.52** 0.49* 0.56** 0.57** 0.52** 0.54**
P 0.69** 0.51** 0.45 0.53** 0.56** 0.45* 0.58** 0.61** 0.49* 0.64**
K 0.65** 0.54** 0.49 0.51** 0.53** 0.54** 0.62** 0.56** 0.48* 0.51**
Precipitation -0.45* -0.35* -0.27 -0.16* -0.11* -0.21* -0.18* -0.17* -0.35* -0.44*
Table 3 Correlation of microplastic abundance and heavy metal content with soil physical and chemical properties
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