Microplastics are found in fertilizers and soil, but we know almost nothing about their environmental and health effects.

An area with microplastics contamination from sewage sludge (left) and from compost (right) in a share of UAA under high fertilization intensity. Credit: Author Submitted, Fourni par l’auteur

Gazprom’s decision Turn off your Nord Stream 1 taps this month It shook the industrial and manufacturing sector in Europe, with fertilizer producers in the first place.

This is because the production of synthetically derived fertilizers, which are made from minerals, gases from the air, and inorganic waste materials, requires an enormous amount of energy. By some accounts, the Haber-Bosch process, which converts nitrogen and hydrogen into ammonia, uses between 1% and 2% of all global energy produced annually. In Germany alone, ammonia production is increasing 4.5% of natural gas used by industries.

organic fertilizers

So, what are the remaining alternatives? The following organic fertilizers can be one solution to ease the burden of increasing costs on farmers and consumers. Let’s weigh some of their pros and cons.

  • compost. Used by farmers to promote Agricultural crops Since at least the Neolithic period, manure has been rich in primary nutrients necessary for plant growth, such as nitrogen, phosphorous, potassium and organic carbon. However, the food crisis The competition between farmers who grow livestock fodder and food (such as grain) for the land has increased and could require us to do so Reducing our consumption of animal products (such as meat). The Reduce herd size It was also set to reduce the supply of manure.
  • sewage sludge and manure. A byproduct of special and industrial food consumption and processing, sludge and manure can replace some of the nitrogen and phosphorous from synthetic fertilizers. They currently contribute minimally to the German plant food, reaching 1% to 4% of the required nutrients. but, Better recycling It can promote the production of bio-waste and compost by 50% in the medium term

Fertilizer soaked in microplastics

However, there is a hitch. In recent years, research has shown that microplastics have increasingly penetrated organic fertilizers and agricultural soils, resulting in an increase in the environment and health concerns. While its effects are still being measured, some Known perpetrators Includes litter and abrasive particles from tire wear. It is also suspected that plastic films placed on crops to prevent temperature fluctuations or water evaporation from the soil known as mulch films are emit. Meanwhile, organic fertilizers and sludge soak up homes and industrial microplastics, which is a big part of the problem.

Microplastics pollution is at its worst in agricultural soil In urban areas, where locals usually produce large quantities of sludge and compost to continue to be used as compost. In Germany, for example, the problem is particularly acute in the industrial west of the country, the Ruhrgebit, or major cities such as Hamburg or Hanover.

Microplastics are found in fertilizers and soil, but we know almost nothing about their environmental and health effects.

Table 1: Quantity of Nutrients Present in Organic Fertilizers as a Proportion of Nutrient Demand in German Crop Production. The data represent fertilization efficiency. Credit: Scientific Advisory Board on Fertilizer Issues (2015), author submitted

Health and Environmental Effects of Microplastics: A Case Research

The science of microplastics is still in its infancy. The research that has been done has indicated that it causes havoc in the soil structureRelease pollutants (for example, plasticizers, flame retardants, light and heat stabilizers) and harm Soil Biosphere.

He even thinks microplastics can do it Crop interference and thus the food chain destined for food and human consumption. To this date, they have been found In mussels and fishAnd the the birdsAnd the Navy And the terrestrial mammals and yes, human beings.

In vitro (in vitro) experiments have confirmed some of these sensations. in a 2019 paperFor example, scientists sprayed microplastics on soil containing rye and earthworms, resulting in fewer seeds germination, shorter sprouts, and increased soil acidity. However, we also know that scholars are applying Higher concentrations of microplastics Under in vitro as opposed to natural conditions (in vivo).

This makes it particularly important for scientists to conduct in vivo experiments, which are more difficult to perform than in vitro experiments. This is because it is especially difficult to distinguish Soil is made of microplastic particleswhile microplastics also disperse through the soil in small concentrations.

As for the health effects of microplastics, scientists believe they pose risks on three levels: firstly through the plastic particles themselves, secondly through the release of POPs that are absorbed by the plastic, and thirdly, the leaching of additives from the plastic. The complexity involved in analyzing microplastics’ endless array of sizes, shapes, and shapes chemical signatures It means that there is currently very little research around health effects.

More research is needed for better laws

It is alarming that environmental legislation, whether at the level of Germany or the European Union, has nothing to say about it, giving farmers a free permit to pollute their fields.

Changing this will require lawmakers to urgently equip Better scientific research. In the meantime, there are practical steps policymakers, farmers, and citizens can take to reduce our dependence on synthetic fertilizers amid the war in Ukraine. The first is Resettlement of our food production And make it less dependent on trade, as Europe has already begun to do so during the COVID-19 crisis. We can also really start to improve the recycling of alternative organic fertilizers to replace synthetic fertilizers in line with the European Union Nutrient Management Plan of the circular economy strategy.

lack of any measures, micro plastic pollution will keep accumulating in our ecosystems and perhaps even blood stream.


Microplastics are not only a problem for the oceans, they are also found in our soils


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