Scientists have warned that chemicals and plastic parts that are produced through the use of packaging materials transfer to food and harm plants and soil ecosystems. Environmental scientists from the Free University of Berlin contributed one of 3 evidence-based articles to explore the problem of microplastics and a better Way to address it.
According to RT, the German team led by Matthias Relig suggested that microplastic pollution appears to interfere with the fabric of the soil environment.
They called for a major concerted effort between scientists and governments to understand the rampant effects of plastic particles on soils and ecosystems.
They found that about 8,300 million tons of plastic had been manufactured since the explosion of production in the 1950s, and that ended up with more than 75 per cent of the waste.
Plastic waste fragments break down into smaller but environmentally stable "microplastics", with potentially harmful effects on humans, wildlife and ecosystems.
Plastic production increased from 2 million metric tons per year in 1950 to 380 million metric tons by 2015 and is expected to double by 2050.
Experts say the plastic pollution crisis will get worse as petrochemical companies switch from fossil fuels to fracking, which produces plastic ethane.
Microplastics are found in environments, including terrestrial ecosystems, at the planet level and so far most research has focused on environmental toxicology, studying impacts on the performance of soil organisms in controlled environments.
As research is shifting to a more ecosystem and global change perspective, questions about the biogeochemical cycles carried by soils become important.
Relig and colleagues say that microplastics can affect the carbon cycle in a number of ways, for example by being carbon in and of themselves and by affecting microbial processes of soil, plant growth, or the decomposition of litter.
Relig said, great uncertainty surrounds nano-sized plastic particles, which is an expected by-product of further microplastics fractionation. Our knowledge of the effects of microplastics on soils is very limited, taking into account that the first papers describing the effects on soil appeared only a few years ago, but they are increasing rapidly. A major concerted effort is needed to understand the diffuse effects of microplastics on the functioning of soils and terrestrial ecosystems.
As part of their article, Relig says that future research needs to capture the enormous diversity of these particles in terms of chemistry, ageing, size and shape.
The fact that microplastics are molecules that contain a lot of carbon, usually around 80%, makes them somewhat unique to other global agents of change, including greenhouse gas emissions and deforestation.
Microplastic carbon is already in our soils and may still only make up a small percentage of the total organic matter carbon in the soil in most cases, but Relig says that this is expected to change in the future.
The study authors say future studies should examine the ways in which these plastics can be removed from the soil, where they could have a dangerous long-term impact. It can affect plant growth in a number of ways, including by changing soil structure and bulk density, changes in water holding capacity, and others.
This could have a long-term detrimental effect on the availability of plants and nutrients for animals around the planet.