Plastics are widely used in modern agriculture, both directly, through their use in production systems, e.g., greenhouse cover films and silage bags, and indirectly, e.g., through the application of sewage sludge or compost with shredded plastic. However, there is a lack of knowledge on the fate of plastic and its impact on soil functions. Aligned with the scope of the cross-disciplinary European project – Macro and Microplastic in Agricultural Soil Systems (SOPLAS) – this study aims to bridge the critical knowledge gap, delivering significant advances to understand the plastic cycle within the soil and support the development of environmental policies, agricultural practices and industrial opportunities related to mitigating the impact of plastics on the environment. The goal of this project is to assess the degradation potential of different mixtures of bacteria/fungi to degrade (macro and micro) polyethylene (PE) and other plastics in agricultural soils. Hence, the project is guided by four specific objectives: 1) Identification of the most adequate bacteria/fungi mixtures and the surrounding conditions for decay in the different types of soils available at the test sites; 2) Assessment of the interaction of the introduced bacteria/fungi mixture with the native soil microbiome; 3) Recognition of the volatiles (alkenes, alkanes) and CO2 emissions produced during the degradation process and collection for further use; 4) Upscaling the setup to mesocosm size.
We provide a disciplinary and multidisciplinary research programme aimed at advanced understanding of environmental problems and advanced training of PhD candidates in this field.