Look around you. It is almost certain that you will see plastics. Cups and bottles are dumped in drains. On farmland, the remains of irrigation pipes can be seen now and again, and more often than not the blue bags that cover bananas are left lying around after use. Quite quickly, they break up into little pieces, like dust.
As with the sea, this ‘dust’ is made of petroleum, and of course it ends up in the soil. Recent research has shown that it helps plants absorb much more cadmium than they do without the presence of microplastics. Cadmium is a metal which is ‘everywhere’, shed by vehicle tyres, batteries and coatings on some agricultural fertilizers. Cadmium is a known cause of cancer.
Even without the cadmium, microplastics in the soil are bad news. They have physical and chemical characteristics that can alter soil bulk density, microbial communities, water holding capacity, and other properties that influence plant development. They clog soil pores and stunt root development.
As if that wasn’t enough, microplastics kill earthworms, which aid decomposition, add organic nutrients to the soil through their waste castings, increase aeration and improve drainage.
Microplastics have been detected in carrots, lettuce, broccoli, potatoes, apples, and pears, also in beer and honey, and. of course water. If microplastics are getting into our vegetables, they are getting into everything that eats vegetables…which means they are in our meat and dairy as well. And so, into us.
Let’s work together to keep plastics out of rivers, out of the sea and off the soil.