Microplastics in our soils – unavoidable?

Plastic in soils

Microplastics are everywhere, whether it’s the Arctic or agriculture. The University of Bayreuth is trying to discover the origin of these microplastic particles and offers insights on „biodegradable“ polymers.

Recently, a public German TV channel featured a report about microplastics in our soils and briefly showed how the ALPHA II is used for the analysis of larger (>300 µm) plastic particles at 1:57.

But where do these particles come from? Other researchers have already shown that winds can carry fine plastic particles around the world. However, these larger pieces seem have a different origin.

Tarps and plastic covers are often used in agriculture to cover silage or crops. This is done to protect them from wind and weather and to speed up their ripening process. After use, however, they often remain in the field and are then ploughed into the soil during later field work.


Agriculture is Europe’s #6 consumer of plastic. 6.5 million tons are used worldwide. The responsibility here also lies with the consumer, since it is us who demand to out-of-season fruit and vegetables.

When the journalists asked for more details, they received a surprising answer from farmers. The ploughing of plastic into the field is virtually inevitable, they said. In addition, biodegradable plastic films have been used for years. But, how biodegradable are these films exactly?

The University of Bayreuth
has a clear statement

Most biodegradable plastics are unfortunately not degradable under these conditions (in agriculture). Over time, these plastics only break down into smaller particles, possibly down to the nano range. After this, they remain as microplastics in our soils or are washed away by rain into the sea.

Ultimately, the microplastics contamination paths must be clearly determined. Bruker supports its customers worldwide in this process – with customized technologies and great applicational expertise.

For more info, watch the full report here (German). You can also visit our website on microplastics, or contact us for more information. Alternatively, you can check out our other posts on microplastics here on our blog.