Micro plastics aren’t often considered by farm owners as a threat, but they are a major source of soil contamination. Research has revealed that micro plastics will negatively affect soil in the long term, creating a wide-reaching effect on the ecosystem at large.
Most of us pay little attention to worms, outside of those who go fishing as a hobby. However, worms play a vital role in the nutrition and fertility of soil. As the population of worms decline, so does the vitality of the soil.
It has been proven that the presence of micro plastic negatively affects the worm population, and the soil’s fertility in turn. Aporrectodea rosea worms mix minerals and air into the soil, thus making it more fertile for longer periods of time.
The test done to prove this effect was rather simple, using two batches of land: one with micro plastic, and one without. The goal was to take note of any decline in plant growth.
The same crops were planted on both batches of land, and were treated the same. Results proved that plants grown in the soil with micro plastic were not as healthy, nor able to produce the same yields as plants in healthy soil.
It’s not always easy to define what counts as plastic, as technology is rapidly changing and new materials are being used to produce plastic goods. Traditionally, plastic is fibers–biodegradable polylactic acid (PLA), conventional high-density polyethylene (HDPE) and microplastic clothing fiber. This may change in years to come, but these are the types most commonly found in our soil as of now.
Sewage is the most common source of plastic in the soil. Sewage is used to fertilize the soil, and to delivery the fertilizer across the soil. As much as 80 to 90% of plastic in the soil originates from sewage waste. We must look for a systematic solution to this problem–possibly replacing sewage systems entirely.
Besides the plastic itself, additional toxins are transported into the soil along with the plastics. These toxins are equally dangerous, and can further damage the soil. These include materials such as chlorinated plastic: plastic treated to carry water. There are quite a lot of phthalates and Bisphenol A (widely known as BPA), which can leach out of plastic particles. These can affect hormonal systems of those it comes into contact with.
Micro beads are an additional problem that comes up because of micro plastics. They are essentially micro-plastics that are larger in shape and size and that cause a different set of problems. They are up to one mm in size if they want to be called micro beads.
These come mostly from the packaging of cosmetics and personal care products. Policies are already in place to try and stop the use of such products, or at least to eliminate the use of micro beads in their packaging.
Micro plastics are damaging the soil, rendering it less fertile. This has been suspected for some time, but recent scientific research has proven it to be true. Toxins leach into the soil through sewage systems as well, and through the use of micro beads used in many types of plastic packaging.