How to Fight Microplastic Pollution in Garden Soil

We can't fix the problem, but we can strive not to make it worse.

woman planting lettuce in raised garden bed

Westend61 / Getty Images

Microplastic pollution pervades every ecosystem on Earth. It is found in every ocean, in the soil, in the water we drink, the food we eat, and in our own bodies. This immense problem is not one that will easily be tackled overnight, and the effects on our health are, as yet, not entirely known.

Treehugger readers will surely wish to do all they can to limit the problem of plastic pollution. So, today, I thought I would talk a little about how we can, at the very least, limit pollution in the soil of our own gardens.

Avoid Synthetic Materials

Some common garden products are potential sources of microplastic pollution. I have written before about reducing plastic use in the garden, and this should always be your general goal when sowing and growing. 

But plastics in the form of synthetic fabrics—like horticultural fleece, for example—can shed particles more than the usual items we look at like plastic pots and bags. Synthetic twine or netting can also break down in the environment. Some paints used in a garden can also shed tiny particles into the surrounding environment.

Your gardening gloves are likely made from plastic materials, and likely a lot of the other clothes you wear for gardening, too. Synthetic fabrics shed fibers not only when they are washed, but while they are in use. So, if you really want to make sure that you are contributing to microplastic pollution as little as possible, natural clothing options are a good idea.

These may seem like small and insignificant actions in the great scheme of things (and of course bigger-scale solutions are needed). But anything we can do to limit microplastics in the soil in our gardens means healthier soil and fewer particles ending up on our plates.

Plastics accumulating in soils can have a negative effect on soil health, fertility, microbial activity, and plant growth. It has been demonstrated that the presence of particles can change soil properties such as soil aggregate structure, water-holding capacity, and microbial diversity and functioning.

What is more, scientists have shown that microplastics in the water and soil can make it into the foods that we grow and eat, which may, scientists believe, have a detrimental effect on our endocrine systems.

Don't Use Commercial Composts—Make Your Own

Unfortunately, there is no way to know how many microplastics are in commercial compost or other materials that you buy to use in your garden. Microplastics have been found in municipal composts and in others for sale.

You can have a little more control by making your own compost, carefully controlling what ends up in it. Home composts can also be a conduit for microplastics to get into the wider environment, so be very careful about what goes into your compost to help tackle this problem.

gardener turns a compost heap to aerate

Grandbrothers / Getty Images

Avoid Microplastics Ending Up in Homemade Compost

Here are some sneaky sources of microplastic pollution to avoid adding to your composting system:

  • Plastic-coated paper and cardboard
  • Sticky labels on fruit and vegetable peelings 
  • Remnants of plastic packaging on food scraps
  • Tea bags (many of which contain plastic in the bag)
  • Wet wipes (which are often plastic)
  • Vacuum cleaner dust (with fibers from synthetic clothing, carpets, etc.)

Catch and Filter Runoff From Driveways and Roads

Another thing that you could think about in your garden is how to prevent water runoff from roads and driveways on your property from ending up in the wider environment. 

Car tires emit a dust containing microplastics when they rub on road surfaces, and this is another major source of microplastic pollution. Catching runoff and directing it into vegetated swales and rain garden systems can help in a small way to reduce the spread of those particles. 

The problem of microplastics is a major one and can be overwhelming. Nor can we keep them out of our lives (or even our bodies) altogether, since a high percentage of drinking water in both Europe and North America contains microplastics to some degree.

But by making sure we do all we can to limit plastic use in our homes and gardens, and by taking small steps to prevent tiny plastic particles from spreading through our gardens and the wider environment, we can at least strive not to make the problem worse.

View Article Sources
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  2. Guo, Jing-Jie, et al. "Source, Migration and Toxicology of Microplastics In Soil." Environment International, vol. 137, 2020, p. 105263., doi:10.1016/j.envint.2019.105263

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  5. Smith, Madeleine, et al. "Microplastics in Seafood and the Implications for Human Health." Current Environmental Health Reports, vol 5, no. 3, 2018, pp. 375-386., doi:10.1007/s40572-018-0206-z

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