Is Agriculture Also a Source of Marine Plastic Debris?

Agriculture is an industry that is responsible for a significant amount of plastic debris. It is estimated that every year, 2 to 3 million tons of plastic are used for agriculture(Kyrikou and Briassoulis 2007).

In Europe, it is said that the amount of plastic debris discharged from agriculture represents 5.2% of the total quantity of plastic debris (1.3 million tons) (as of 2012)(PlasticEurope 2015).

Although plastic debris generated by agriculture is a low proportion of all plastic debris, its discharge is concentrated in a specific area, causing plastic contamination, especially in certain localities.

In agriculture, various kinds of plastics are used for various purposes. For example, vinyl sheets and films are used in greenhouses. Vinyl sheets are also often seen covering the roots of plants; these are used to control temperature and humidity and to retard the growth of weeds.

Besides that, plastic is also used for many things such as packaging agricultural crops, containers for crops, vinyl films covering livestock feeds, nets to deter birds and insects, strings for packaging, polyvinyl chloride pipes for irrigation, bags for chemical fertilizers, and pesticide containers.

Vegetable production is flourishing in particular in Western Europe and in the Far East (China, Korea, Japan), using such a large amount of plastic that it can be termed a “plastic culture”(Briassoulis et al. 2013).

Furthermore, seeds are coated with polymers to control germination, and these polymers are often not biodegradable, so they remain in the soil even after germination.

A large amount of the plastic used for agriculture is exposed to sunlight for a long period of time and will experience high temperatures during the day. Thus, physical processes such as photodecomposition and thermal oxidative decomposition accelerate the deterioration of plastics, meaning that the plastic will crumble and the microfabricated microplastics become mixed into the soil.

It is not easy to remove the microplastics once they have mixed with the soil. High density polymers remain in the soil and can penetrate deep inside it. On the other hand, lighter polymers are blown away by the wind or are leached by the rain, finally entering the ocean(Nizzetto et al. 2016).

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