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Plastics in soil- A threat to food security, health, and environment

  • Category
    Environment
  • Published
    13th Dec, 2021

Context

Plastic pollution has become pervasive in agricultural soils, according to a new report released by the UN agriculture agency, posing a threat to food security, people’s health, and the environment.

About

Understanding the structure of soil

  • The soil is the mixture of organic matter, minerals, gases, water and air, and other organism and also the attribute of the earth’s outermost layer crust.
  • The parent material of soil called as a rock, that goes under several transformations due to the influence of number factors such as climate, wind and other chemical activity.

Types of Soil in India:

The Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) divided the Indian soils into eight major groups namely Alluvial Soils, Black Soils, Red Soils, Laterite Soils, Forest and Mountain Soils, Arid and Desert Soils, Saline and Alkaline Soils, Peaty, and Marshy Soils.

Features, composition and geographical distribution of soil are briefly tabled in the below section:

Type

Feature

Distribution

Dominant Crops

Alluvial Soil

Khaddar- light in color, more siliceous. Bhaggar- the older alluvium is composed of lime nodules has clayey composition. It is dark in color.

Ganga and Brahmaputra river valleys; Plains of Uttar Pradesh, Uttaranchal, Punjab, Haryana, West Bengal, and Bihar.

Rice, Wheat, Sugarcane, Oilseeds

Desert Soil

Contain a high percentage of soluble salts but are poor in organic matter; rich enough in phosphate though poor in nitrogen

Rajasthan, Northern Gujarat, and southern Punjab

Wheat, grams, melon, bajra

Black Soil

The soils are derived from basalts of Deccan trap. Consist of calcium and magnesium carbonates; high quantities of iron, aluminum, lime, and magnesia.

Maharashtra and Malwa plateaus, Kathiawar peninsula, Telangana and Rayalaseema region of Andhra and northern part of Karnataka

Cotton, Millets (Include Jowar, Bajra, and Ragi), Tobacco, Sugarcane

Red Soil

Mainly formed due to decomposition of ancient crystalline rocks like granites and gneisses and from rock type rich in minerals such as iron and magnesium. Siliceous and aluminous in nature. 

Eastern parts Deccan plateau, southern states of Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka and Chota Nagpur plateau 

Wheat, Rice, Cotton, Sugarcane, Pulses

Grey and Brown

A semi-arid tract of Rajasthan and Gujarat

Cotton, Oilseeds

Laterite Soil

Composed mainly of hydrated oxides of iron and aluminum; loss of silica from the soil profile

Assam hills, the hill of summits of Kerala and Karnataka and Eastern Ghats region of Orissa

Coffee, Rubber, Cashew nuts, Tapioca

Mountain soil

Coniferous forest belt of Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, Uttaranchal and Sikkim

Fruit, Tea

About plastics

  • Plastics are a group of materials, either synthetic or naturally occurring, that may be shaped when soft and then hardened to retain the given shape.
  • They are polymers.
    • A polymer is a substance made of many repeating units.
    • A polymer can be thought of as a chain in which each link is the “mer,” or monomer (single unit).
    • The chain is made by joining, or polymerizing, at least 1,000 links together.
  • Polymerization can be demonstrated by making a chain using paper clips or by linking many strips of paper together to form a paper garland.
  • Properties-
    • Capability of being molded or shaped, usually by the application of heat and pressure.
    • Low density, low electrical conductivity, transparency, and toughness, allows plastics to be made into a great variety of products.

Negative side

  • Non-biodegradable
  • Microplastics
  • Contamination of soil and water
  • Contamination of food chain

Positive side

  • Cleanliness: Plastics help to protect the environment by reducing waste, lowering greenhouse gas emissions, and saving energy.
  • Construction: Plastics enable sustainable, durable, long-lasting design and construction in homes, buildings, and infrastructure like bridges.
  • Automotive: Plastics contributes to a multitude of innovations in safety, performance, and fuel efficiency.
  • Safe and sustainable packaging: Plastic packaging helps protect and preserve goods while reducing weight in transportation, which saves fuel and reduces greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Electronics: Computers and cell phones to televisions and microwaves, durable, lightweight, and affordable plastics have helped revolutionize electronics.

Why plastic is becoming a challenge?

  • Impact on soil: Microplastics can interact with soil fauna, affecting their health and soil functions.
  • Harmful chemical affecting ecosystem: Chlorinated plastic can release harmful chemicals into the surrounding soil, which can then seep into water sources affecting the ecosystem.
  • Polluting emission: Plastics film have been shown to release potentially carcinogenic phthalate acid esters into the soil, which can be taken up in vegetables and so, risk to human health
  • Toxic for Human health: These toxic chemicals are now being found in our bloodstream and the latest research has found them to disrupt the Endocrine system which can cause cancer, infertility, birth defects, impaired immunity, and many other ailments.

Steps taken by various stakeholders-

  • India aims to eliminate single-use plastic by 2022. 
  • Indian Railways and Air India banned the use of single-use plastic, which cannot be recycled.
  • GloLitter Partnerships Project
  • World Environment Day
  • The Plastic Waste Management Regulations, 2016
  • Plastic Waste Management Regulations (Amendments), 2018
  • 'Plastic Hackathon 2021' campaign
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