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Farm plastics under the microscope

Research is underway into the life cycle and waste management of both conventional and biodegradable plastics used by the agricultural sector across the European Union.

Plastics in agriculture are widely used, for example in mulch films to protect soil, as tunnels to protect crops and for water irrigation. The analysis will consider the practices of a dozen member states including Greece, which already has a national collection scheme to boost recycling.

The research project, for the European Commission and carried out by the Eunomia consultancy based in Bristol, UK will result in a series of potential policy actions that could be taken to minimise the environmental impacts of such plastics.

Impacts

Eunomia says the first phase of the research will focus on understanding the ways in which plastics are used, managed at the end of life, and the associated impacts. Its team will collect information on:

  • the volume of plastics placed on the market
  • applications of these plastics
  • the different polymer types
  • collection, reuse and recycling
  • volumes sent to landfill and incineration
  • existing policies

Greece is among those member states being analysed as it is currently looking to introduce an extended producer responsibility scheme for agricultural film in order to improve the collection, treatment and recycling of these types of plastics.

Eunomia’s project lead, Caroline Bradley, says she is excited to be managing one of the first major research projects into agricultural plastics. ‘Much of the plastics discussion has focused on consumer-facing plastics, such as those in the Single Use Plastics Directive, but with widespread use of plastics in agriculture, it’s important to understand the problems that might arise, and how they can best be tackled.

The results from the study will be published in 2021.

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