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AI can predict how microplastics impact soil: Study

A new study focuses on assessing and predicting the effect of microplastics on soil properties, with the help of AI and machine learning

A considerably small number of plastics that are discarded every day are recycled or sent to waste-to-energy facilities.(Pexels)

By Team Lounge

LAST PUBLISHED 27.12.2023  |  06:00 PM IST

Every year, a massive amount of plastic ends up in rivers and oceans, posing a threat to marine animals as well as humans. However, researchers are also concerned about their rising presence in soil and its effects—which have not been investigated in depth. To address this gap, a new study focuses on assessing and predicting microplastics’ effect on soil properties – with the help of AI and machine learning.

A considerably small number of plastics discarded daily are recycled or sent to waste-to-energy facilities. These plastics break down into minuscule particles or microplastics, usually less than less than 5 mm, which have become a major pollutant today. When microplastics enter the soil, they can affect its diversity, ecosystem, and capacity to hold water as well as its yield. 

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Hence, to better understand the interaction between soil and microplastics, a team led by Yong Sik Ok, President of the International Environmental, Social and Governance Association (IESGA), in South Korea, used machine learning (ML) techniques.

ML is a dynamic and transformative field of AI that uses algorithms and models to learn and make predictions from vast datasets with great accuracy, Ok explains in a press statement. “Using ML to comprehensively understand the role of MPs in soil systems is time- and resource-efficient and provides a foundation for future research on this subject," Ok added. The findings were published in the journal Environmental Pollution.

In this study, the ML algorithms were programmed to predict the influence of microplastics on soil properties and found that different factors, such as type, size, shape, and dosage, significantly affect soil properties. Specifically, the size of microplastics was identified as a major factor. “The application of ML techniques to this problem demonstrates the potential for advanced technology to drive sustainable practices and create a greener, more eco-conscious future," Ok said in the statement.

According to the researchers, the use of ML algorithms marks a “groundbreaking shift" from traditionally complex and resource-intensive methods for predicting the impact of microplastics on soil properties. Ok also added that this study could revolutionise corporate sustainability efforts and generate more green jobs and sustainable development to create an eco-conscious world.

This research emphasises the need for action to tackle the increasing presence of microplastics in the environment and how using innovative technology might be the way ahead.

Also read: Microplastics stick around in the airways, posing health risks