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A literature review carried out by the National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM) has concluded that reliable standard techniques should be developed to analyse microplastics in the soil. Until such techniques are available, researchers will be unable to carry out reliable analyses into what effects the presence of microplastics in our soil has on human health. It is partly for this reason that our knowledge is incomplete and any potentially harmful effects cannot be sufficiently identified.

Plastic particles smaller than five millimetres in size are referred to as microplastics. More and more microplastic particles are ending up in the environment, including in the soil. If this trend continues, the accumulation of microplastics in the soil could potentially be harmful to the health of humans, plants, animals and soil organisms.

More clarity needed

Although a great deal of research is being carried out into microplastics, RIVM nevertheless believes it is vital that more clarity is provided about the presence of microplastics in our soil. That is why RIVM has compiled a summary of the scientific knowledge available on this subject, which shows that this knowledge is fragmented, incomplete, and sometimes even contradictory. RIVM therefore recommends conducting further research into where microplastics come from and how we are exposed to them.

Recommendations for further research

More knowledge is needed in order to reliably assess the potentially negative effects of microplastics on the environment. RIVM therefore recommends: 

  1. Better identifying the contribution of the principal sources of microplastics to dispersion of microplastics in the soil. 
  2. Gaining insight into the speed at which different types of plastic break down into microplastics and nanoplastics and into harmless compounds.
  3. Conducting more research into the potentially harmful effects of microplastics on humans, plants and animals. 
  4. Assessing the risks of different types of microplastics to the soil simultaneously. Existing frameworks for the risk assessment of substances are unsuitable for this, as microplastics differ from each other in terms of their form and composition.