iSQAPER: Exploring plastic pollution in soil

While the proliferation of plastics in aquatic environments has been widely explored, the issue of plastic and microplastic pollution on land and in soils has only recently been gaining attention. Plastic and micro plastic pollution may be more dramatically seen in the oceans; however, plas­tics are produced, consumed and disposed of on land. Recent research shows that microplastic contamination in soils is between 4 and 32 times larger than in the sea and that more than 80 per cent of marine plastic pollution originates from the land.

In line with the theme of this year’s World Environment Day “Beat Plastic Pollution”, IEEP has produced a briefing under the iSQAPER project to shed light on the issue of plastic and microplastic pollution in soils, the sources and implications as well as policies to address the associated challenges. The briefing shows that in addition to inadequate end-of-life treatment of plastic waste, the presence of macro and micro plastic particles in soil is the result of an increasing use of plastics for agricultural purposes. Together these can have the potential to profoundly impact on terrestrial ecosystems and on the productive capacity of agricultural soils. The briefing explores concerns relating to contamination by harmful substances, biodegradability potential and ingestion along with existing policies and legislation which can directly or indirectly reduce the leakage of plastics into soils and the wider environment.

The briefing calls for greater knowledge and consideration of the issue of land-based plastic pollution. There is a need both for further investigation of the potential consequences for human health and the environment and the examination of possible solutions.  This includes greater consideration of the issue and its implications in the policies and measures with the potential to address the use of agricultural plastics, soil contamination and fertiliser quality.

For more information on IEEP’s work on plastics contact Jean-Pierre Schweitzer, Emma Watkins and Susanna Gionfra, and on soils Catherine Bowyer, Ben Allen and Faustine Bas-Defossez.

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