Microplastics in the soil may be becoming a worldwide food chain problem, according to the United Nations.
On Tuesday, the United Nations agricultural agency the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) released a report assessing plastic pollution in agricultural soil, and it’s concerning.
“Soils are one of the main receptors of agricultural plastics and are known to contain larger quantities of microplastics than oceans”, FAO Deputy Director-General Maria Helena Semedo said in the report’s foreword.
We talk a great deal about microplastics in the ocean, with the Great Pacific Garbage Patch and the invidious presence of plastic in every single bite of fish. But it’s not only a floating problem.
Since plastic became widespread in the 1950s, over 6.3 billion tons of the stuff have been produced. According to environmentalists, nearly 4/5 of that, has never been properly disposed of.
Plastic is used in every kind of land husbandry, in ways that help boost productivity. It’s used to cover soil to reduce weeds. Nets protect plants from grazers and help trailing vines grow higher and turn more sunlight into calories. Tree guards ensure that orchards have fewer failures and grow more fruit. And exactly like in the fishing industry, what happens to these plastics is poorly regulated or managed. Since 93 percent of global food production happens on land, the waste adds up.
Microplastics have been found in human gut products and arterial plaques. Perhaps most concerning, they’ve been found in placental blood, meaning they’re being transmitted to fetuses from their pregnant parents. Microplastics are also found in the fine sand of the Sahara, which indicates they are traveling the world by wind. We’re past the point where they can be cleaned from the environment, all we can do is try to produce less. The predominate source is food production, whether at sea or ashore, but a large contributor is fast fashion. Microplastic particles are washed out of acrylic-based clothing every time they’re washed, often too small to be removed by water treatment plants.