Fate and Impact of Past, Present and Future Consumer Plastic on Soil

Freie Universit├Ąt Berlin

Soil provides us with the means to grow 98.8% of our food and it has been predicted that with the growth of the Australian population, by 2050 we need to increase our food production by 70%. However, the current degradation rate of the soil is concerning. This is due to the extensive and increasing use of plastics in farming, such as plastic mulching and unintentional plastic introduction through the application of nutrient-rich solid waste from wastewater treatment plants. Recent testing of soil ecotoxicology and various ecosystems has highlighted the persistent and widespread use of plastics globally, however, the data needed to clarify the impact of plastics on soil health is lacking. This project employs a multidisciplinary approach to determine the extent of plastic contamination in agricultural soils, as well as the degradation of plastic and its impact on soil health. The aim is to continue this project in the EU to be further explored and provide training and knowledge in plastic degradation and environmental health.

This project will address the current knowledge lack by:

  1. Quantifying the polymer distribution and concentration in different agricultural soils. Polymers are large molecules made by chemically bonding together a series of building blocks and their properties including size, shape, and surface area, will be quantified for representative samples,
  2. State-of-the-art analytical instruments and workflows will be employed for the fingerprinting, screening, and identification of plastic additives,
  3. The workflows will further be employed to determine the leaching and partitioning behaviour of additives from plastic and aged plastic into the soil environment,
  4. The impact of different plastic aspects such as polymer type, additive composition, and aging-induced changes to polymers and plastic on vital soil processes will be quantified.

The outcomes from this project, SoPla_Fate, will advance our assessment of potential soil health impairment through plastic pollution, highlighting the importance of an integrated multidisciplinary research connecting plastic fate in soil with its impact.

Project members

Prof Kevin Thomas

QAEHS Director
and Theme Leader, Environmental Health Toxicology