Soil Science Group

Plastics in soils

Microplastic particle with 0.4 mm scale

Microplastics and nanoplastics in the environment are of great concern, mostly because of their ubiquity and possible negative effects on organisms. This is especially relevant in soils as healthy soils are of not only ecological importance but also a prerequisite for human food production. Further, terrestrial systems are only very little studied in terms of microplastic and nanoplastic concentrations, characteristics and possible consequences for human and environmental health. The main reason for the low number of microplastic analysis in soils is the lack of an established method.

We work on the development of methods to analyze micro- and nanoplastic in all kind of soils and composts. Furthermore, we analyze microplastic in soils of different origin and land use to understand the sources and fate of soil microplastics.

Research Projects

Nanoplastics are in the size range <1µm and might either be emitted directly (e.g. from cosmetics) or from bigger plastics by decomposition, UV induced breakdown or physically forced breakdown. As nanoplastics show negative effects on a variety of soil organisms, their occurence might effect soil ecology and fertility. The research about nanoplastics is still at its very beginning due to technical limitations in the analysis of nanoplastics. The preperation of the samples is more sophisticated compared to microplastics and infrared or Raman spectroscopy, which are normally used in microplastic research, are limited to particle sizes >1µm.

We are working on the extraction of nanoplastics from soil samples and methods to analyse nanoplastics. Beside scanning electron microscopy we test scanning transmission X-ray microscopy  in combination with near edge X-ray absorption fine structure at the carbon K-edge for the characterisation of nano sized plastic particles.

PhD student: Alexandra Foetisch
Master student: Laure-Hélène Vinot
Supervisor: Dr. Moritz Bigalke, Dr. Montserrat Filella, Dr. Benjamin Watts

Alexandra looks for Nanoplastic particles at the Synchotron