World Soil Day, 5 December


While we can see many of the changes we have made to our planet, some of our impacts are virtually invisible, and soil pollution is a good example. Be the Solution to Soil Pollution campaign for World Soil Day 2018 aims to raise awareness and call people to #StopSoilPollution


These days pollution is a worry – and soil is also affected. Soil pollution is a hidden danger that lurks beneath our feet.

1/3 of our global soils are already degraded. Yet we risk losing more due to this hidden danger. Soil pollution can be invisible and seems far away but everyone, everywhere is affected. With a growing population expected to reach 9 billion by 2050, soil pollution is a worldwide problem which degrades our soils, poisons the food we eat, the water we drink and the air we breathe. The entity of the problem is still unknown as not certain data are available on a global scale.

Soils have a great potential to filter and buffer contaminants, degrading and attenuating the negative effects of pollutants, but this capacity is finite. Most of the pollutants originate from human activities, such as unsustainable farming practices, industrial activities and mining, untreated urban waste and other non-environmental friendly practices. As technology evolves, scientists are able to identify previously undetected pollutants, but at the same time these technological improvements lead to new contaminants being released into the environment. In the Agenda for Sustainable Development 2030, the Sustainable Development Goals 2, 3, 12, and 15 have targets which commend direct consideration of soil resources, especially soil pollution and degradation in relation to food security.

It is time to uncover this threatening reality. Combatting soil pollution requires us to join forces, and turn determination into action. Be the solution to soil pollution.

Key messages

  • Globally, our soils act as a filter for contaminants, but their buffering capacity is finite. If the latter is exceeded, contaminants can enter the environment and the food chain. 
  • Soil pollution affects food security by reducing crop yields and food quality. Without healthy soils we wouldn’t be able to produce our food and achieve Zero Hunger.
  • Human activities are the main source of soil pollution. Therefore, it is in our hands to adopt sustainable soil management practices.
  • Unsustainable agricultural practices lead to the release of pollutants into soils and the environment. For example, using manure from antibiotic treated livestock more responsibly helps prevent antimicrobial resistance.
  • Composting and recycling at home can reduce the amount of waste that enters landfills and can improve soil health, reducing the negative effects of improper waste disposal.

Key figures

  • 1/3 of plastic produced ends up in our soils.
  • Over 40 million tonnes of electronic waste is generated every year.
  • Up to half of your shopping consists of packaging.
  • Up to 1/2  of our household waste is organic but ends up in landfills.
  • 1/5 of the raw materials used for producing new products is wasted.
  • Around 50,000-100,000 chemicals are now commercially produced on a large scale and their production is projected to increase by 3.4% yearly until 2030
  • Expanding cities are producing an ever-growing amount of municipal solid waste. 80% of our waste is not being recycled and ends up in landfills, contaminating our soils.
  • About 4 billion people live in the 56 biggest mineral-producing countries. Due to soil pollution, agricultural productivity in mining areas decreases by 40% relative to areas farther.
  • The agrochemicals market is increasing by 3.2% every year. 58% of agricultural soils in Europe have residues of multiple pesticides, half of them are now illegal.
  • The number of cars worldwide will nearly double by 2040. Highways are major, open and dynamic sources of contaminants such as metals, toxic organic pollutants and plastics, that present a risk to adjacent agricultural soils and urban areas.
  • Plants may absorb contaminants through their roots, producing unsafe food. 1 in 10 people in the world fall ill after eating contaminated food and 420 000 die every year.
  • 7 tablespoons of lead can contaminate up to 1 ha of soil or 200 thousand litres of water.
  • More than 70% of the soil pollutants are carcinogenic.

Multimedia resources

"My Actions" success stories

GSP has received testimonies from smallholder farmers, children, government representatives and actors around the world about their commitment to stop soil pollution.

Here are some examples of their stories - called "My actions":

Argentine – Así son los suelos de mi país

FAO/GSP spoke with the team of “Así son los suelos de mi país” (CREA Argentina). The project links farmers, research institutions and government representatives to high school students to foster strong bounds and integration through shared responsibility over the soil resource.

View photos. Photo credit: ©CREA/Federico Fritz

Watch the video project release here. Read CREA's story here.

IAEA – Nuclear techniques to address soil pollution

FAO/GSP spoke to IAEA on how nuclear techniques can address soil pollution and increased productivity. Scientists use stable isotopes to track agro-contaminants, including their origin and movement from soil to water bodies. They can use these techniques to optimize fertilizer use and find ways to reduce its impact as an agro-contaminant and source of greenhouse gas emissions.

View photos. Photo credit: ©IAEA/Gaspar

Read IAEA's story here.

Costa Rica – ACCS activists for the new de-carbonization program

FAO/GSP spoke to Floria Bertsch from the Asociación Costarricense de la Ciencia del Suelo (ACCS) on the occasion of a large fair held at Paseo Colón at the presence of the President of the Republic. The government launched the new national de-carbonization program and ACCS will have a main role in the area of composting of organic waste.

View photos. Photo credit: ©ACCS/Floria Bertsch

Read ACCS's story here.

Italy – Fondazione MiDA and the Pertosa’s Soil Museum

FAO/GSP spoke with Mariana Amato from Fondazione MiDA about the soil museum of Pertosa that offers a unique itinerary of knowledge dedicated to our Earth. An extraordinary adventure through the different layers of the Planet to rediscover the soil and raise awareness on the importance of its defence from all threats.

View photos. Photo credit: ©Fondazione MiDA/Mariana Amato

Watch the video project release here. Read about the Soil Museum's story here.

Gabon – Billboards calling for behavioral changes to stop soil pollution

FAO/GSP spoke to the FAO Subregional Office for Central Africa and the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock of Gabon, in charge of the GRAINE Programme. They organized impactful celebrations to raise public awareness on the need for a behavioral change to halt soil pollution.

View photos. Photo credit: ©FAO/Bouassa Levy

Watch the video project release here. Read about the FAO Gabon's story here.

Russia – ECFS and World Bank at the Lomonosov Moscow State University

FAO/GSP spoke to the Eurasian Center for Food Security (ECFS). WSD2018 brought together 33 organizations in St. Petersburg to discuss the role of human capital in soil science as well as the role of soil science and natural resource management in ensuring food security

View photos. Photo credit: ©ECFS

Read about the ECFS’s story here.

Tajikistan – Youth working to stop soil pollution, global warming and climate change

FAO/GSP spoke to high school students of Dushanbe and to Oleg Guchgeldiyev (FAO Representative) and representatives from EBRD CLIMADAPT who took part into the organization of master classes and case study presentations on the efficient use of soil resources, especially soil conservation, composting and drip irrigation on WSD2018.

View photos. Photo credit: ©FAO/Bunafsha Azimova

Read about the story here.

Bangladesh – NGOs organized marches for healthy soils

FAO/GSP spoke to SRDI and Practical Action who organized rallies and competitions assessing the most suitable Sustainable Soil Management (SSM) practices (e.g. barren sandbars used to grow pumpkins by filling pits with compost). Every year in Bangladesh floods wash away fertile land and destroy homes, forcing families to find a new place to live and a new means of earning a living without land to cultivate.

View photos. Photo credit: ©Practical Action Bangladesh

Read about the story here.

Cameroon – Farmers for sustainable management and conservation of natural resources

FAO/GSP spoke to IRAD and farmers on the promotion of environmental conservation to ensure the sustainable management of natural resources. The institute generates all the information that has an impact on agricultural development and provides users with technological data that meets their needs.

View photos. Photo credit: ©IRAD

Read about the photo story here.

Europe – Civil society from GROW Observatory: soil webinars

FAO/GSP spoke to Deborah Long from the GROW Observatory, who, joined by communities in GROW Places, celebrated healthy soils and sustainable management of soil resources hosting real life events and sharing lots of relevant information on line to address soil pollution and promote soil health.

View photos. Photo credit: ©Grow

Read about the photo story here


FAO experts share their views on how we can have a world without soil pollution. Listen to the podcast.

Info on World Soil Day - global ceremony (5 December, FAO Headquarters, Rome)