Plastic has been one of our biggest enemies nowadays, along with climate change. But don’t you know that we are not the only ones despising plastic? Yes, even small creatures like worms also despise plastic because of personal reasons.
The damaging effects of plastic is known to affect ocean ecosystem so much, and it has become global concern. However, its effects on land ecosystem hasn’t given enough spotlight even though it brings not less disasters.
Talking about that, now we are focusing on what happens to worms when they are exposed into microplastic particles in the soil. And this is the reason why soils that contains microplastic is despised by the worms.
Therefore, here in this article we are going to inform you how much worms despise microplastics and what disasters that the tiny plastic particles bring to them.
Microplastic In Soil
Plastic is everywhere nowadays. In your home, in the water, even might be in your body, there is plastic or its smaller form which is microplastic. But in this story, we are talking about the presence of plastic in the soil all around the world.
The reason for their global existence is because even the first generation of plastic has not been fully degraded. The problem is, with their global presence, we are now facing a great problem that no one in the history of mankind have solved yet.
Most plastics are made of chemical compounds such as polyethylene that can be toxic. In addition to that, since it is not biodegradable, microplastic can clog any channel including blood vessels in the body of any animal including human.
Thus, we are facing two life-threatening problems with plastic contamination, either being poisoned or clogged, or both of those. Such kind of thing not only happens to big animals, but even worms can also experience it and it is worrying.
When even small creatures like worms can be threatened by the presence of plastic, any living organism in the upper part of food pyramid can be affected too. In addition to that, the function of worms in the nature can also be hampered.
Soil And Worms Health
Worms are known as ecosystem engineers because they literally build the foundation for any land ecosystem. Worms ingest dead organic matters and process it in their bodies to create nutrients for plants and animals in the ecosystem.
In this case, normally worms would grow and live better when they are eating enough ‘food’. But with the presence of microplastic in the soil, such thing doesn’t happen well, and at some point, it can be worrying to us.
“After a period of 30 days in the presence of HDPE, which is commonly used in the production of plastic bottles and carrier bags, they found that rosy-tipped earthworms (Aporrectodea rosea) lost on average 3.1% of their weigh,” as stated in the paper.
3.1% might seem small, but in comparison to healthy worms, the growth rate of healthy ones is only 5%. Looking on the number, we know that the weight loss is more than half of the weight that they should have gained.
What should be noted is that the worms that lose weight also eat and absorb nutrients from what they eat. This is just like how humans are dieting in an unhealthy way that they lose weight so fast even though they consume the same amount of food. In this case, microplastic is the unhealthy diet that the worms experience.
When Worms Are Not Healthy…
Microplastic is predicted to have hurt the worms from the inside, thus worms cannot grow well and do the thing they always do well. A study conducted by a group of scientists from Anglia Ruskin University found that fact.
“The earthworms lost weight overall when certain microplastics were present and grew significantly in weight in soil without added microplastics. However, the specific reasons for this weight loss needs unravelling,” said Lead author Dr Bas Boots, Lecturer in Biology at Anglia Ruskin University.
What’s the effect when the worms in the soil is not healthy? Scientists said that this can be a break in the very long chain of ecosystem. And when the chain break happens early, a domino effect will happen and affect the rest of the long chain.
“Their burrowing activity improves soil structure, helping with drainage and preventing erosion. It’s therefore highly likely that any pollution that impacts the health of soil fauna, such as earthworms, may have cascading effects on other aspects of the soil ecosystem, such as plant growth,” said Connor Russell, the co-author of the study.
When worms, or the engineer of ecosystem, hurt, it will affect plant growth. Later, it will affect every organism that depends on plants, which will later also affect the next in the order, and eventually the whole ecosystem.
Plastic Waste Near Us
When worms are not healthy, the whole ecosystem that depends on the presence of worms will feel the impacts directly. If we are worrying about how plants may absorb microplastic particles or toxins from the soil, this study proves that the problem is worse and more complicated than that.
The three kinds of plastic included in the study are the most commonly found ones such as HDPE, PLA, and synthetic fibers. It means that such kind of thing is already happening now below us but we still don’t realize the effects yet.
“This study provides evidence microplastics manufactured of HDPE and PLA, and synthetic fibers, can affect the development of grass and the health of earthworms and crucial soil properties with potential further impacts on soil ecosystem functioning,” Dr Boots said.
Our problems with plastic are apparently more complicated than what we thought. Before, we mostly only care about what happens to marine ecosystem, but apparently similar problem has already happening right below us.
This study proves that we are already in an orange alert regarding plastic pollution. Still, many people keep ignoring the alarm. The whole world is already fighting against plastic pollution by reducing the use of single-use ones, and that’s good news. However, we as individual still have to play active part in it, or we will lose this war.