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By - Papiya Mahanti
Planning to grow your own food? Then read on ...you will be shell shocked!
We are talking so much about how sinister and how dangerous plastic actually is, but what about people in cities trying to grow vegetables in plastic containers? Is it really safe?
People are realizing how dangerous and loaded with chemicals the food we are getting in our local groceries is. Here, we are talking of the food without the plastic packaging.
Lack of space in cities is making the more enthusiastic ones to try to make the best of whatever little space they have in their balconies and terraces. Many are even growing vegetables in gunny bags. In the whole enthusiasm, we may actually end up putting equal, if not more, amount of toxins into our bodies.
The cost-effectiveness of the plastic containers is the obvious reason for the choice. Yes ...it's hard to think so far that toxic chemicals could get into the soil from the plastic pots and from there through the roots into the plant and finally into our bodies.
Pots may be made of different types of plastic that have different properties, break down differently and leach different chemicals, but no form of plastic is totally safe, and almost all forms of consumer plastics leach chemicals.
It is important to add here that how harmful a chemical is for us is also decided by the quantity of the chemical we are exposed to and the period of time over which the exposure happens. So, there is a safe dose for almost every chemical.
Some argue that hardly any chemicals leached from plastic containers reach the roots, and even if it does, most of it is stored in the roots. Very negligible quantity, if at all, reaches the stems, leaves, or fruits. Hence it may not actually be a matter of concern.
New research indicates that microplastics can penetrate the roots of plants, traveling up the plant into the parts that we eat. Still, research is going on, and we are not sure of the impact this amount of plastic can have on our health. The fact is that even if a minuscule amount of plastic is entering our system due to eating food grown in plastic pots, it has to be a cause of concern when this goes on for years.
We must not forget that this is not the only way that plastic is entering our bodies. The numerous ways in which microplastics (i.e., tiny pieces of plastic less than 5 mm in size.) and the toxic chemicals leached from plastic are getting into our food chain is shocking.
Very minute pieces of plastic are found all over the world in the soil, and this plastic is entering the human food chain. Actually, terrestrial microplastic pollution is much higher than aquatic.
You must be wondering how such large amounts of plastic reach the soil or our water sources.
Most of the plastic waste ends up in landfills, and toxic chemicals from the plastic leach into the soil and the groundwater, and surrounding water sources.
You will be surprised to know that about 90 percent of the plastic particles in the sewage continue to remain in the sludge and when this is added to soil to increase the fertility of the soil, thousands of tons of plastic end up in the soil.
More shocking is the recent finding that our fruits and vegetables are actually sucking up microplastics through their roots. Here we are not talking of plants in plastic pots - this is the produce from orchards and farms.
A study conducted in University of Catania, in Italy and published in ‘Environmental Research’ found microplastics in produce from both supermarkets and local sellers in Catania.
Another study published in ‘Nature Sustainability’ by researchers at Yantai Institute of Coastal Zone Research in China, and Leiden University, in the Netherlands, found that cracks in the roots of lettuce and wheat crops can take in microplastics from the surrounding soil and water. Those microplastics can then travel from the roots up to the edible parts of the crop. Though researchers already knew that very, very small particles—about 50 nanometers in size—could penetrate plant roots, Willie Peijnenburg, an environmental toxicology professor at Leiden University, says his study found that particles about 40 times that size can get into plants as well.
In the Italian study, the produce from local sellers was found to have higher levels of microplastics than the produce bought at supermarkets. The smallest pieces of plastic were found in carrots at about 1.5 micrometers, and the largest, found in lettuce, were 2.5 micrometers. Carrots were the most contaminated of the vegetables sampled, and as for the fruits, apples were more contaminated with microplastics than pears. There were more microplastics found in the fruits than the vegetables, which researchers think has to do with how the older fruit trees have a larger root system than vegetable plants.
Peijnenburg adds that “simply, most people don’t like to be eating plastics.” (Read the full story at ‘Fast Company’)
Whatever may be the facts, there is no doubt about one thing- it is high time we think about the impact our choices may have on the environment.
It may, of course, be better if we grow our vegetables in earthenware pots or gunny bags, but that is not the end of the story. It is not just the vegetables grown in plastic pots – in fact, all fruits and vegetables available in the markets may contain microplastics. Wondering what will happen if you are somehow able to buy a plot of land and grow organic vegetables and fruits? You will have produce, that is free from pesticides and many other harmful chemicals, but what do we do about the particles of plastic in the soil and the groundwater? Yes ...your farm produce may contain microplastics. The percentage will depend on which part of the world you are in. Definitely, it will not be totally free from plastic particles. Research shows that microplastics in the soil can affect the health of plants too. So we have more to think about than the humble plastic pots!
“The strongest governments on earth cannot clean up pollution by themselves. They must rely on each ordinary person, like you and me, on our choices, and on our will.” — Chai Jing, Journalist & Environmental Activist
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