An underestimated threat: the pollution of land by microplastics

Photo: Falk Negrazius, Benin Wikicommons

Amsterdam, 1 March 2018 – Microplastics are not just a threat to the marine environment, they also threaten the land environment. The long-term impact of microplastics in soil can have all kinds of negative effects on terrestrial ecosystems, in other words on land, with even greater impact than at sea. German researchers at the Leibniz-Institute published a warning in Sciencedaily.

The researchers point out that much more plastic finishes up on land than at sea, four to 23 times as much. Worldwide around a third of all the plastic produced finishes up in soils or freshwaters. An important source is sewage sludge, which is used as manure. This sludge contains microplastics which have been removed from water in water purification plants, for instance larger microfibers released during the machine washing of synthetic clothing.

The researchers wondered what impact microplastics have on land and analyzed the little research which has been done on this subject. Among their findings was the following:

  • Microplastics can be found in agricultural soil all over the world;
  • Microplastics can spread pathogenic bacteria and effect the fitness of worms;
  • When additives such as Bisphenol A leach out of plastic, hormone disruptive substances are released.

The long-term effects of these phenomena are still largely unknown. It is therefore essential that programs to measure the effects of microplastics in soil are developed quickly in order to assess the risks.