Field of lettuces growing through plastic sheeting.

Plastic pollution has become pervasive in agricultural soils warns a new report – and it poses a threat to food security, human health and the environment.

Published by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, Assessment of agricultural plastics and their sustainability: A call for action notes that plastics have become ubiquitous in agriculture since their widespread introduction in the 1950s.

Uses include covering soil to reduce weeds, protecting plants through netting, and using tree guards to help saplings get established.

Without viable alternatives, banning plastics in agriculture is not seen as a viable option, but the FAO does identify some alternative approaches based on the 6R model: “Refuse, Redesign, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, and Recover”.

The report also calls for a comprehensive voluntary code of conduct to be developed for all aspects of plastics used in agrifood chains, as well as more research, especially into the health implications of microplastics and nanoplastics.

In its review of the report, The Guardian quotes Professor Jonathan Leake of the University of Sheffield, who argues that problems are especially serious in the UK, “because of our applications of large amounts of plastic-contaminated sewage sludges and composts.”


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