Recent research commissioned by the Plastic Soup Foundation has shown that agricultural fields in the Netherlands and Spain are seriously contaminated with microplastics. A surprising and worrying finding is that ‘biodegradable’ agricultural films appear to be a major source of this pollution. Despite the claim of biodegradability, these films turn out to be not nearly as biodegradable as previously thought, resulting in a high concentration of microplastics in the soil.
In Europe, the use of plastic foils in agriculture is growing rapidly. These foils, also called mulch films, are mainly used in countries such as Benelux, France, Germany, Italy, and Spain. The foils offer benefits such as better water retention, prevention of soil erosion and weeds, and increased yields per hectare. However, these foils need to be disposed of after harvest, which often results in residual plastic on the land and an increase in plastic waste.
Although biodegradable plastic foils are presented as a sustainable alternative, this does not appear to be the case. Every year, 80 million kilos of mulch foils are used in Europe, of which 5% (4 million kilos) are the biodegradable variety. Despite claims that these films degrade 90% within 2 years, research has shown that they are a major source of microplastic pollution in fields.
The samples of agricultural and water soils of the adjacent ditches collected during the study on 16 farms in the Netherlands and Spain are currently being re-analysed by Wageningen University & Research (WUR) and processed into a scientific publication and accompanying report.
With the revision of the EU Fertiliser Regulation coming up by July 2024 at the latest, it is essential that the findings of this study are taken into account. Plastic Soup Foundation advocates for a change in system and mindset, using alternatives such as paper or waste streams from wool production instead of plastics. The goal is a sustainable and future-proof system that cooperates with nature rather than harming it.
Biodegradable agricultural film does not break down, does not feed the soil with extra nutrients but instead pollutes the soil and contaminates our food with microplastics. Sign our statement of support and make your voice heard too if you don’t want plastic in your food!