Study: Microplastics Harm Land Ecosystems

Category : Science/Environment

Unlocking Word Meanings

Read the following words/expressions found in today’s article.

  1. biodegradable / ˌbaɪ oʊ dɪˈgreɪ də bəl / (adj) – capable of being broken down naturally

    Carl buys only biodegradable products because he wants to protect the environment.

  2. disperse / dɪˈspɜrs / (v) – to scatter

    The strong waves caused the spilled oil to disperse across the ocean.

  3. hinder / ˈhɪn dər / (v) – to interrupt an event or prevent it from happening

    Lack of funds hindered the scientists from continuing their research.

  4. pinpoint / ˈpɪnˌpɔɪnt / (v) – to find out exactly what something is

    The police pinpointed the reason for the fire in the house. Someone had left a television set on, and it overheated.

  5. fertile / ˈfɜr tl / (adj) – capable of supporting many plants

    I grew up in a home with many trees because the soil in our backyard is very fertile.


Read the text below.

A study has found that microplastics affect the growth of plants and animals on land.

Many studies have looked into how microplastics affect marine life, but scientists know little about the impact of these plastic particles on land ecosystems. A team from Anglia Ruskin /ˈæŋ gli ə ˈrʌs kɪn/ University in the United Kingdom conducted a study to find out more about the impact.

The team observed soil containing a plant known as perennial ryegrass /pəˈrɛn i əl ˈraɪˌgræs/. The team added three types of microplastics to the setup. These included PLA, a biodegradable plastic commonly used to pack food; HDPE, which is used in making plastic bottles and bags; and clothing fibers, such as acrylic and nylon. They also put rosy-tipped earthworms, which can disperse the microplastics, in the soil.

The team found that PLA hindered the growth of ryegrass. This type of microplastic, as well as clothing fibers, stopped the ryegrass’s seeds from sprouting. Meanwhile, HDPE caused the soil to become more acidic. The study also revealed that earthworms exposed to microplastics for over 30 days lost 3.1% of their weight.

The researchers have not pinpointed the reason behind the worms’ weight loss, but the study’s lead author speculated that the earthworms react to microplastics in the same way as aquatic lugworms do. Previous research found that in these aquatic worms, microplastics obstruct the digestive tract, causing reduced growth.

The researchers said that the results are alarming because earthworms are important to the ecosystem. The worms consume dead organic matter and help nourish the soil. In addition, they also create holes in the soil, allowing oxygen and water to enter. A previous study even concluded that soil will be less fertile without earthworms.

Viewpoint Discussion

Enjoy a discussion with your tutor.

Discussion A

• The study found that even PLA, a type of biodegradable plastic, has bad effects on the environment. What do you think people should do based on this finding?
• Given the results of the study, do you think manufacturers should be banned from using or producing more plastics? Discuss.

Discussion B

• Do you think that the public should make efforts to preserve animals like earthworms even if they are normally considered as pests? Why or why not?
• How can people be more aware of the importance of small insects or animals? Discuss.

Category : Science/Environment