We were recently invited to give a presentation during a British Society of Soil Science webinar, which took place on 5th April 2023. After a fascinating presentation from Prof Matthias Rillig surrounding his research on the impacts of plastics on soil health, our very own Dr Taru Sanden, presented on the behalf of MINAGRIS, starting with an overview of the extent of plastic use in agriculture. She then outlined the objectives of MINAGRIS before examining ways of recording plastic presence in agricultural soils, with a focus on our mobile App, SoilPlastic, which allows citizens to send us records of plastic debris present in agricultural fields. You can watch a recording of the webinar now here.

 The webinar began with a presentation from Prof Matthias Rillig, who explained that over 6300 million tonnes of plastic have been produced since its advent. As a result of a resulting global reliance on plastic-based products, both macro- and micro-plastics (<5mm in size) have become ubiquitous in soils. There are several ways in which plastics end up containing soils, including through movement by earthworms themselves, who can transport microplastics up to 10cm deep in the soil profile. Prof Rillig, upon realising how dominant plastics are in soils, has pursued research to investigate the extent to which these plastics behave as ecotoxicological pollutants and the effects they have on global issues including climate change and food security. He has since published numerous papers on the topic, including research proposing plastic toxicity debt, whereby the accumulation of micro- and nano-plastics lead to an eventual peak of toxicity. There are, however, lots of unknowns surrounding the impacts of plastics on soil health, including long-term effects, how different types of microplastics behave (e.g., weathering), and how they interact with other pollutants and causes of global change. This research shares synergies with the goals of MINAGRIS, whereby we are carrying out extensive research to better understand the impacts of micro- and nano-plastics on agricultural soil health. 


 Next, Taru Sanden began her presentation by sharing an overview of how plastics reach agricultural soils, explaining that MINAGRIS is undertaking further investigation into how micro- and nano-plastics are transported across land. She then summarised the key objectives of MINAGRIS, which include sampling in 11 case study countries across Europe (see here). 



 As shown in the figure below, we have found that farmers within the MINAGRIS case studies have varied perceptions surrounding how much plastic is present on their fields; whilst some believe it isn't a significant problem, others, particularly horticultural farmers who rely on plastic-based products, recognised that they likely have high quantities of micro- and nano-plastics on their land. 



 Next, Taru introduced the SoilPlastic app, which is allowing MINAGRIS to gather additional information surrounding the distribution of plastics in agricultural fields. Read more about SoilPlastic here. Finally, the webinar concluded with some thoughts surrounding how successful the App has been so far, including how useful the findings are likely to be (see below).