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

Microplastics (MP) are defined as plastic particles <2mm and might either be emitted directly (e.g. from cosmetics) or stem from bigger plastic particles, forming through fragmentation. There is very little hard evidence of its chemical and physical effects on the environment. As we know plastic is very persistent and big quantities of plastic enter the environment through various pathways, its accumulation in the environment must be viewed critically and studied in more depth. Before any studies on impacts can be done, a method for the extraction of  MP from soils and its quantification must be established. Our extraction protocol builds on previous work within the group and is based on multiple density separations and digestion steps. The extracted MPs are quantified using an MCT-FTIR. The method is used to analyze >200 soil samples from all across Europe as part of the MINAGRIS project. In addition, we also study the horizontal transport of MPs in soil.

PhD student: Adrian Grunder
Master student: Sinh Ly
Supervisor: Prof. Moritz Bigalke, PD Abdallah Alaoui

Plastic use in agriculture has tremendously increased in the past decades resulting in soil pollution with plastic residues forming besides macroplastics micro (MP) and nanoplastics (NP). MINAGRIS aims to contribute to healthy soils in Europe by providing a deeper understanding and tools to assess the impact of MP and NP in agricultural soil health.

To create an overview of the actual situation across Europe, MINAGRIS will assess the use of different plastic polymers in agricultural systems in 11 case study sites across Europe and identify the resulting types and concentrations of MPs and NPs. Concentrations of other stressors in soils such as pesticides and veterinary drugs will be additionally assessed.

Work package 2, led by the University of Bern, aims to coordinate all activities taking place at the 11 European case study sites. In addition, the University of Bern is responsible for investigating the transport of microplastics in agricultural soils. Together with Darmstadt University, the University of Bern is responsible for the analysis of micro- and nano-plastics sampled in all European case study sites.

PhD student: Adrian Grunder
Master student: Sinh Ly
Supervisor: PD Abdallah Alaoui, Prof. Moritz Bigalke (Darmstadt University)