European Farmland Could Be Biggest Global Reservoir of Microplastics, Study Suggests


Farmlands across Europe are potentially the biggest global reservoir of microplastics due to the high concentrations found in fertilisers derived from sewage sludge, new research has shown.

Scientists from Cardiff University and the University of Manchester estimate that between 31,000 and 42,000 tonnes of microplastics (or 86 – 710 trillion microplastic particles) are applied to European soils annually, mirroring the concentration of microplastics found in ocean surface waters.

In a study published in the journal Environmental Pollution, the team estimate that microplastics removed from raw sewage at wastewater treatment plants go on to make up roughly 1% of the weight of sewage sludge, which is commonly used as a fertiliser on farms across Europe.

The UK was shown to potentially have the highest amount of microplastic contamination in its soils, with 500 – 1000 microplastic particles per square meter of agricultural land applied per year, followed by Spain, Portugal and Germany.

Sewage sludge is commonly used on agricultural land as a sustainable and renewable source of fertiliser throughout European countries, in part due to EU directives that promote the diverting of sewage sludge away from landfill and incineration and towards energy production and agriculture.

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