Agricultural Microplastics

A quick foray into terrestrial microplastics. It is rare thing for marine biology  to be ahead of terrestrial biology. We know way more about the land on this planet than the water, but when it comes to plastic pollution, marine science is leading the charge. Only recently have researchers started looking at microplastic content of soils.

Preliminary research suggests that 63,000 – 430,000 tons of microplastic are added to North American soils every year (Nizzetto et al, 2016), and, like in the oceans, animals are eating this plastic, and toxins are impacting microbial communities. Plant uptake is dependent on size, but beads 20-40nm were taken up by tobacco plants, indicating a potential threat to food.

Strawberry field. Watsonville, California, USA

This report was particularly poignant for me. I grew up in a small agriculture valley in Central California. The dominant crop is strawberries, and every year, the fields are covered in plastic to keep weeds and pests under control. Before the strawberries are planted, the fields look like water, white plastic glistening in the sun. I know this plastic is not recyclable, and unlikely reusable. At the end of the growing season they tear it all out with tractors, and start again.

When we talk about plastic pollution solutions, most of the time we focus on consumers, but we need to consider that a lot of industries use plastic in unsustainable ways. Helping these industries come up with new and innovative ways to reduce, reuse and recycle their plastics is an important aspect of mitigation that is often forgotten.

Read the article here

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