10 years ago, the public conversation on microplastics was focussed almost entirely on microbeads in exfoliant scrubs, toothpastes and makeup. There was a collective sense of despair at the absurdity that plastics were being intentionally being added to products that were then rinsed down drains and into waterways.

The media has been a lot quieter on the microbead front recently, and attention has turned to microplastics in the broader sense, such as fibres from clothes washing, and fragments from the erosion of plastic products. Despite the rising awareness of microplastics, microbeads were never banned, nor were other microplastics intentionally added to products which are released into the environment, such as polymer coated seeds and slow release fertilisers.

This, however, is changing with new EU legislation passed this week restricting intentionally added microplastics. Member states voted in favour of the Commission’s proposed bill to better control the use of microplastics, to lower their risk to the environment. The legislation, previously hit by delays, will target the 42,000 tonnes of microplastics intentionally put into products which ultimately end up in the environment annually. So, what does this mean for agriculture?

Microplastics canva

Photo credit: Canva

There is an increasing body of evidence demonstrating that plastics are now ubiquitous across the biosphere, with micro-plastics now detectable in even the remotest of environments. Micro-plastics are present in deep oceans, polar ice-caps, and agricultural soils across the world, whilst nano-plastics have even been found in the tissues and fruits of food-crops. Micro-plastics (plastic pieces under 5 millimetres (mm) in size), and nano-plastics (plastic particles under 1 micrometre (μm)) are pervasive globally. These micro- and nano-plastics are the result of the breakdown and shedding of plastic objects including machinery, vehicles and synthetic fabrics, or intentionally created and added to products such as paints, cosmetics and toothpastes.

Microplastics are inside us.

Research has found that micro-plastics, including nano-plastics, are routinely inhaled in dust in homes, workplaces and the wider environment, and ingested in our food and drink. Plastics have been found in shellfish, crop plant and animal tissues, and are known to migrate up the food chain. Micro-plastics have now been found in the urine, blood, placentas, and deep in the lung tissue of living people. Studies in mice have demonstrated that exposure to micro-plastics can cause them to accumulate in living tissues.

These new and potentially alarming findings lead to urgent questions around what, if any, the impacts on human health might be.


Available on IoSAndroid, and in your desktop browser, the recently launched SoilPlastic App allows you to record your sightings of plastic in soils. With these records, you will help scientists to gain a better understanding of the impacts of plastic residues on soil health. This is a key area of research because we rely on our soils for producing 95% of our food. Access our quick-start guide here

women in minagris


International Women's Day (08/03) provides a great opportunity for us to celebrate the many women involved in MINAGRIS, each of whom are contributing to investigating the impacts of micro- and nano-plastics on agricultural soil health. Above are just a few of the women involved in the project! 

Minagris group shot crop 3

MINAGRIS is one year old, and what a year it has been! The team have been busy working on a number of activities, from developing and launching our multiscale experiment protocol, to completing a Europe-wide sampling campaign across 11 case study sites.

Partners in the project have presented at seminars, conferences, and public events, and we have co-hosted two joint stakeholder forums with our sister project PAPILLONS. Team members have published the first papers affiliated with MINAGRIS. Meanwhile, we have produced several key deliverables, including developing the SoilPlastic citizen science app (available on Apple and Android).

We rounded up year one with our annual plenary, this year hosted by the Slovenian partners in Ljubljana. This was a fantastic opportunity to check in with each other, establish where we stand and plan next steps for a productive year ahead!