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Plastic debris in plastic-mulched soil - a screening study from western Germany

  • Background. Agricultural plastic mulches offer great benefits such as higher yields and lower pesticide use. Yet, plastic mulches may disintegrate over time and fragment into smaller debris. Such plastic debris is expected to remain in the field after removal of the plastic mulch and thus contributes to soil contamination with plastics. Method. To investigate this, we collected soil samples at 0–10 cm and 10–40 cm depth from three fields covered with black mulch film for three consecutive years. Three fields without any reported plastic use served as control. Visual plastic debris > 1 cm (macroplastics) was collected from the soil surface. Mesoplastics between 2 mm and 1 cm were density separated from the sampled soil using saturated NaCl solution and analyzed by Fourier-transform infrared spectroscopy. Debris ≤ 2 mm (microplastics) was dispersed from 50 g soil using sodium hexametaphosphate solution followed by the aforementioned density separation. The separated polyethylene (PE), polypropylene (PP), and polystyrene (PS) were quantified via solvent-based pyrolysis–gas chromatography/mass spectrometry (Py–GC/MS). Results. With 89–206 fragments ha−1, the majority of macroplastics were located in fields previously covered with mulch films. 80% of the collected specimen were identified as black PE film. The number of mesoplastics in plastic-mulched soil was 2.3 particles kg−1, while only 1.0 particles kg−1 were found in the reference fields. Py–GC/MS revealed microplastic levels of up to 13 mg kg−1. The PE content was significantly higher in plastic-mulched fields than in reference fields. Discussion. Although the identified plastic levels are lower than those reported in comparable studies, our results still suggest that plastic mulching functions as a source of plastic debris in agricultural systems. Due to its severely restricted degradability, these plastics are likely to accumulate in soil in the long term and further fragment into smaller and smaller debris.

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Author:Zacharias Steinmetz, Heike Schröder
Parent Title (English):PeerJ
Document Type:Article
Date of completion:2022/07/19
Date of publication:2022/07/19
Publishing institution:Universität Koblenz-Landau, Campus Landau, Universitätsbibliothek
Release Date:2022/07/20
GND Keyword:Bodenchemie
Number of pages:14 Seiten
Licence (German):License LogoEs gilt das deutsche Urheberrecht: § 53 UrhG