Effect of different polymers of microplastics on soil organic carbon and nitrogen – A mesocosm experiment

Fanrong Meng*, Xiaomei Yang, Michel Riksen, Violette Geissen

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

103 Citations (Scopus)


Agricultural microplastic pollution has become a growing concern. Unfortunately, the impacts of microplastics (MPs) on agricultural soil carbon and nitrogen dynamics have not been sufficiently reported. In an attempt to remedy this, we conducted a 105-day out-door mesocosm experiment in a soil-plant system using sandy soils amended with two types of MPs, low-density polyethylene (LDPE-MPs) and biodegradable (Bio-MPs), at concentrations of 0.0% (control), 0.5%, 1.0%, 1.5%, 2.0% and 2.5% (w/w, weight ratio of microplastics to air-dry soil). Soil organic matter (SOM), dissolved organic carbon (DOC), permanganate oxidizable carbon (POXC), available nitrogen (AN) of N-NH4+ and N-NO3, and dissolved organic nitrogen (DON) were measured on day 46 (D46) and 105 (D105) of the experiment. SOM was also measured after microplastics were mixed into soils (D0). For LDPE-MPs treatments, SOM on D0, D46 and D105 showed no significant differences, while for Bio-MPs treatments, SOM significantly (p < 0.05) decreased from D0 to D46. Compared to the control, soil POXC was significantly (p = 0.001) lowered by 0.5%, 1.0% and 2.5% LDPE-MPs and ≥ 1.0% Bio-MPs on D105. LDPE-MPs showed no significant effects on soil DOC and nitrogen cycling. 2.0% and 2.5% Bio-MPs showed significantly higher (p < 0.001) DOC and DON (on D46 and D105) and ≥1.5% Bio-MPs showed significantly lower (p = 0.02) AN (on D46). Overall, Bio-MPs exerted stronger effects on the dynamics of soil carbon and nitrogen cycling. In conclusion, microplastics might pose serious threats to agroecosystems and further research is needed.

Original languageEnglish
Article number111938
JournalEnvironmental Research
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2022


  • Dissolved organic carbon (DOC)
  • Low-density polyethylene
  • Microplastics
  • Permanganate oxidizable carbon (POXC)
  • Soil nitrogen


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