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  • IUCN

Exposing one of the least known but most preventable sources of microplastic pollution

Friend, We are increasingly living on a plastic planet. Today, tiny particles of plastic — or microplastic — pervade even the most remote areas of the globe, affecting every ecosystem, accumulating in the air, water, soil, plants, and in our bodies. But what if we told you that microplastics are being intentionally added to the environment — and onto food crops — at massive scale? CIEL’s new analysis exposes a little known but growing driver of microplastic pollution in the environment and our food supply: microplastics that are intentionally added to agrochemicals, such as pesticides or fertilizers. As these microplastics accumulate in agricultural soils, they risk being taken up by the edible parts of food crops, further adding to the plastic burdens that are contaminating our food supply, our drinking water, and even the air we breathe. Our report, Sowing a Plastic Planet: How Microplastics in Agrochemicals Are Affecting Our Soils, Our Food, and Our Future, reveals the underrecognized threat presented by the increasing and intentional use of microplastics in agricultural pesticides and fertilizers.

Learn more about the intentional use of microplastics on food crops.

These microplastics disrupt ecosystems, compound the already significant threats from agrochemicals, and exacerbate the climate crisis. Synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, derived primarily from oil- and gas-based feedstocks, are already some of the most toxic substances in use today. Encapsulating them in microplastic — which is itself fossil fuel in another form — only adds to the risks. Because they are intentionally sprayed on agricultural soils and crops — and into the environment — plastic-coated agrochemicals are not only egregious; they are also among the most controllable and preventable sources of microplastic pollution. The only barriers to addressing it are the lack of public awareness of the problem and the will to tackle it at its source, by regulating the plastics industry and holding polluters accountable. Our analysis provides recommendations, urging decision makers to:

  1. End the use of intentionally added microplastics in the agricultural sector and across all manufactured products,

  2. Deepen research on the harms of microplastics and require industry to disclose all chemicals intentionally added to their products,

  3. Curb dependency on chemical fertilizers and pesticides in agriculture, and

  4. Adopt a comprehensive global approach to plastics regulation.

Read CIEL’s analysis and recommendations to curb microplastics in agrochemicals.

This analysis shines a light on the industrial agricultural sector as one of the most significant contributors to microplastic pollution, and illuminates solutions to protect human and ecosystem health, climate stability, and food systems. Thank you for being a part of our community, and for supporting CIEL to make this research and analysis possible. Together, we can tackle the toxic triad formed by agrochemicals, plastics, and fossil fuels, and prioritize a healthy environment for all. Sincerely,

Giulia Carlini and Dana Drugmand Senior Attorney and Researcher Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL)

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