Skip to content

New app will enable public to support research around plastic waste in soils

Researchers at University of Gloucestershire have helped to devise a new app to enable the public to support scientists in understanding how much plastic waste ends up in soils, potentially damaging wildlife and the food supply.

The SoilPlastic App – available on iOS and Android – allows local communities to record their sightings of plastic in soils, which will enable scientists to gain a better understanding of the impacts of plastic residues on soil health.

Plastic mulches, nets, labels, transplant trays, pipes, silage wraps, and other plastic-based items play a central role in agriculture.

But when the plastic breaks down into micro and nano-plastics, they become small enough to be ingested by wildlife and can even be taken up by some fruits and vegetables, including apples and carrots.

Studies have found that plastics can also cause changes in soil properties, affecting nutrient cycling and soils´ ability to retain and store water, which makes it more difficult for soils to maintain biodiversity and provide crops with the nutrients they need to grow.

The new app will enable farmers and members of the public to record anonymously their sightings of waste plastic in soil, which will become part of a global database.

The data will enable farmers to make informed decisions around ways of reducing how much plastic ends up in their fields, either through using alternatives or recycling plastics in a more sustainable way.

The app is part of the EU-funded MINAGRIS project exploring how plastic debris is affecting soil biodiversity, soil functions, related ecosystem services, and agricultural productivity across Europe.

The University’s Countryside and Community Research Institute (CCRI) is leading on the research findings in the UK, investigating the advice available to farmers surrounding plastic use in agriculture, and working with UK horticultural growers and stakeholders. 

Prof Julie Ingram, of the CCRI, said: “This new app will help us to gather crucial evidence around the impacts of plastics on soil health. This is a key area of research because we rely on our soils for producing 95% of our food.

“We hope that as many people as possible will try it out and contribute to this important research.”

Dr Taru Sandén, of the Austrian Agency for Health and Food Safety (AGES), who has led the development of the App, said: “The SoilPlastic App enables citizens to become part of an international research project and to share their plastic observations from their surroundings.

“We hope many citizens open their eyes for the topic of plastic in the environment and use the possibilities of communicating with one another in the app.”