Research ArticleENVIRONMENTAL STUDIES

Organic fertilizer as a vehicle for the entry of microplastic into the environment

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Science Advances  04 Apr 2018:
Vol. 4, no. 4, eaap8060
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aap8060

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Abstract

The contamination of the environment with microplastic, defined as particles smaller than 5 mm, has emerged as a global challenge because it may pose risks to biota and public health. Current research focuses predominantly on aquatic systems, whereas comparatively little is known regarding the sources, pathways, and possible accumulation of plastic particles in terrestrial ecosystems. We investigated the potential of organic fertilizers from biowaste fermentation and composting as an entry path for microplastic particles into the environment. Particles were classified by size and identified by attenuated total reflection-Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy. All fertilizer samples from plants converting biowaste contained plastic particles, but amounts differed significantly with substrate pretreatment, plant, and waste (for example, household versus commerce) type. In contrast, digestates from agricultural energy crop digesters tested for comparison contained only isolated particles, if any. Among the most abundant synthetic polymers observed were those used for common consumer products. Our results indicate that depending on pretreatment, organic fertilizers from biowaste fermentation and composting, as applied in agriculture and gardening worldwide, are a neglected source of microplastic in the environment.

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