Plastic litter buried in soil - investigating long term effects on terrestrial ecosystems

Soil samples from the beautiful, yet heavily plastic-littered Lisle Lynøyna island, are now under scrutiny. The researchers will unveil to which extent plastics in soil layers leak toxic substances into the environment.

Sist oppdatert: Feb 15, 2022
Published Feb 15, 2022
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Senior researcher and project manager Alessio Gomiero at NORCE's plastic lab, Mekjarvik. (Photo by Andreas R. Graven)

– We need to find out which substances the plastic releases, and investigate the deleterious effects of plastic buried in the soil might have on the environment, says senior researcher and project manager Alessio Gomiero at NORCE, Norwegian Research Centre.

– This is necessary knowledge both in the present situation and not least in the future, he adds.

When plastic waste accumulates for decades along the Norwegian coast, a new landscape with soil full of plastic emerges, even in the most beautiful places.

Researchers at NORCE are the first to document the phenomenon of emerging plastic landscapes, in a study in the journal Frontiers in Marine Science.

Lisle Lyngøyna is one of many hotspots for plastic accumulation in Western Norway.

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Field work at Lisle Lyngøyna in August 2021. Project manager Alessio Gomiero (left) at NORCE, and researcher colleague Eivind Bastesen. (Photo by Andreas R. Graven)

The common perception would be that plastics in the soil ought to be removed. But is it always the best solution to remove plastic waste in soil layers?

Will the removal of the plastic increase the presence of microplastics as well as facilitate the release of more chemical compounds as leached plastic additives or adsorbed pollutants?

– There is a need for more knowledge about the scale and consequences of plastic pollution of the soil. We need this knowledge to point to effective measures and strategies for sustainable management of these areas, says Gomiero.

The senior researcher from NORCE will investigate plastic in soil from Lisle Lyngøyna, in a new project called Toxicity effects assessment of plastic litter buried in soil.

The project is funded by Handelens Miljøfond.

Analysis of soil samples will be performed at NORCE's advanced plastic lab in Mekjarvik, Stavanger. Gomiero cooperates with Gidske Andersen, associate professor at the University of Bergen, in the project.

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Soil sample from Lisle Lyngøyna. (Photo by Alessio Gomiero)

Lisle Lyngøyna represents a unique open laboratory on the Western coast of Norway, due to the large amounts of marine litter accumulated on the island.

The researchers will follow and study several ecological processes, such as plastic fragmentation, the release of plastic adsorbed chemicals, and plastic’s interaction with flora and fauna.

– We have no expectations regarding findings. And we do not know if there are high levels of chemicals adsorbed in the plastic, to what extent plastic additives are released, or how it affects the microbial environment or the ecosystem, says Gomiero.

– Anyway, it is important to know what is leaking from the plastic, he adds.