Microplastic incorporation into soil in agroecosystems

Rosolino Ingraffia, Anderson A. De Souza Machado, Matthias C. Rillig

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104 Citations (Scopus)


We live in a plastic age (Thompson et al., 2009), with microplastic (typically defined as plastic particles < 5mm) becoming an increasingly appreciated aspect of environmental pollution. Research has been overwhelmingly focused on aquatic systems, especially the oceans, but there is a current shift to more strongly consider terrestrial ecosystems (Rillig, 2012; Horton et al., 2017). In particular agroecosystems are coming into focus as a major entry point for microplastics in continental systems (Nizzetto et al., 2016b), where contamination might occur via different sources as sludge amendment or plastic mulching (Steinmetz et al., 2016). Given the central role of agroecosystems, including their soil biodiversity (Rillig et al., 2016), in food production, such numbers are potential cause for concern. Field data on measured microplastic presence in agricultural soils are still not widely available, but nevertheless this material is certain to arrive at the soil surface. The fate of material deposited at the soil surface is not clear: particles may be removed by wind or water erosion, becoming airborne, or may be lost by surface runoff (Nizzetto et al., 2016a). Nevertheless, a substantial part of the microplastic (or nanoplastic following further disintegration) is expected to enter the soil.The degree of hazard represented by microplastic to various soil biota is not clear. Direct evidence comes fromexperimental work on earthworms, on whichmicrobeads had negative effects (Huerta Lwanga et al., 2016; also reviewed in Horton et al., 2017). Data on impacts on other soil biota groups are not available.However, Kiyama et al. (2012) have shown that polystyrene beads can be taken up by the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans; thismeans thematerial could also accumulate in the soil food web (Rillig, 2012). Movement into soil is an important aspect of assessing risk: will soil biota be exposed to microplastics? Here, we sketch what is known about movement of such particles in soil, which players and factors could influence this, and we chart avenues for research aimed at the movement and distribution of microplastic in agricultural soils.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-4
Number of pages4
JournalFrontiers in Plant Science
Publication statusPublished - 2017

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Plant Science

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