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The growing concern of microplastics in farming

No matter how you look at it, the impact of microplastics in farming is still largely unknown.

It is estimated that, in a kilogram of soil, there can be over 40,000 microplastic particles. The majority (up to 92%) of these particles are fibres, while the remainder are generally plastic fragments (up to 4%). Both fibres and fragments are secondary microplastics, which means they come from larger plastic waste breaking down in the environment. 

Recent studies have suggested that agricultural soils actually hold more microplastics than ocean basins. Though this fact may paint a bleak picture for the future of farming, it is still largely unknown if microplastics are a hindrance or a help to crop production.

Why are microplastics such a problem in farming?

In 2010, it was estimated that agriculture was responsible for up to 85,000 tonnes of plastic waste a year. So, it’s no surprise that farmers are under immense pressure to tackle the plastic problem head-on.

Plastic has been wreaking havoc in the oceans and in our waterways for years, and the side effects are regularly documented. In turn, microplastics are everywhere – from in the air to human waste – and farming is no exception.

The problem is that scientists are still largely unsure as to the impact that microplastics have on human beings. It’s believed that the average person consumes anything between 39,000 to 52,000 microplastic particles a year. While that fact is terrifying in itself, there hasn’t been sufficient research into the long-term consequences of having plastic in the food chain.

How are microplastics affecting worm activity? 

Last year, a study conducted by Anglia Ruskin University showed that the rosy-tipped earthworm (the most common worm found on farmland) failed to thrive in earth containing microplastics. 

When scientists placed the worms in soil loaded with HDPE (high-density polyethene – a common plastic used for bags and bottles) they lost up to 3% in body weight. In comparison, worms placed in plastic-free soil put on up to 5% in body weight, over the same period. 

This study posed a worrying prospect to farmers. Worms have always been a good indicator of soil health. Historically, if the earth is too acidic, alkaline, dry, wet, hot or cold, then it won’t be suitable for plant growth. So, naturally, when the earth is laden with plastic, it probably isn’t suitable for growing crops, either. 

Minimising plastic waste on farms

We’re all familiar with the phrase “reduce, reuse, recycle” by now – so how can you minimise the amount of plastic waste generated on your land?

Thankfully, in recent years, there has been an increase in best practices to encourage farmers to reduce or recycle the amount of plastic they use. As detailed here, when organising farm recycling, it’s important to separate your waste by the type of plastic. From there, you can organise delivery to the Environment Agency-regulated collector site in your area. 

Even hazardous waste (like latex gloves and udder wipes) can be recycled, providing you have a Hazardous Waste Consignment Note. Taking simple steps like this can be vital in cutting your farm’s plastic footprint.

Here at AWSM Farming, we strive to offer environmentally-friendly alternatives to traditional farming. For more information, contact us today

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