The alternative of circular plastic has become more popular over the years. Nowadays, more agricultural producers are concerned with finding options that will not only allow them to be more environmentally friendly and reduce environmental impact, but also give them the opportunity to improve everything related to the agricultural economy, such as the use of materials obtained from plastics that have been treated and recycled.
While plastic is a valuable material that helps optimize agricultural practices worldwide, the truth is that it is essential to perform a better control regarding the final disposal given to these plastics so that they don’t become a problem that ends up being detrimental to us.
Frequently, once their useful life expires, these plastics are -erroneously- perceived as agricultural waste that cannot be exploited or used any longer and end up accumulating or, in the worst case scenario, being manipulated through non-recommended practices such as burning or burying. It’s important to remember that these two practices represent a health risk as they compromise the quality of the natural resources of water, air, and soil, as well as the crops.
The alternative of circular plastic as a sustainable practice for the environment
The circular plastic initiative arises along with the global requirement to transform the mindset of a linear economy (where it is manufactured, used and discarded), into a more circular economy (where resources are used as long as possible, extracting the maximum value from them while they are being used).
In a circular economy, products and materials can be recovered and regenerated at the end of their useful life, to give them new use and purpose. As a result, a circular economy also means a circular solution for plastic waste and a way to improve global competitiveness and resource efficiency.
Although it may seem like an obvious alternative, recycling agricultural plastics can be tricky, and sometimes, it translates into having to face a number of obstacles such as the lack of access to on-field material collection programs for later reuse and recycling. This procedure, that many times is more complicated, is the reason why many farmers prefer other practices, some of which are inadequate, to do what they can with the resources available on-farm.
However, there is a growing interest to accommodate circular plastic, so today recycling agricultural plastics is one of the most viable methods for a more responsible use of waste materials, while minimizing environmental impact.
Global circular plastic initiatives
Today, it’s still common to find people involved in the agricultural industry who believe that there’s no need for recycling programmes and that a linear economy model must be followed, since they believe that the consolidation of a circular economy is unlikely. However, there are those who are looking at the issue from a different perspective as they are certain about the importance of designing and creating strategies focused on circular plastic.
This is the case in the region of Wisconsin in the United States, where they are devoted to recycling silo bags and other agricultural plastics to be able to create other plastic products. Aside from a decrease in the amount of agricultural waste generated annually, that ends up in landfills, there’s a decrease in terms of costs and effort for farmers in that town regarding the need to dispose of large plastic sheets, especially those used for bunker covers, horticultural mulch, silo bags and bale wraps.
According to information published on the website of the University of Wisconsin, “some communities are exploring ways to create local collection and/or baling sites, commonly located at landfills and solid waste transfer stations. In a few cases, plastic processors offer on-farm pickup services to facilitate easier recycling. Some processors or counties may require plastic to be managed in certain ways and delivered at certain times of the year.”
They also provide some recommendations for farmers to more efficiently manage the agricultural plastics they use to take full advantage of their properties, extend their shelf life and allow them to be better conditions at the time of collection for recycling, such as:
- Minimise plastic waste by purchasing the right size materials for each requirement.
- Minimise plastic contamination by keeping silo bags clean and located in a place with good drainage.
- Remove accumulated silage plastics to avoid keeping them so many days piled and therefore improve the collection process.
- Cut the plastic into small pieces to keep it manageable.
- Maintain the plastic stored in a dry area and secure it to minimize blowing.
- Finally, transport the plastic to a collection centre for proper disposal and reuse.
Another circular plastic initiative focuses on the possibility of using recycled agricultural plastics to make tubular shelters specially designed for seedlings, which can be used in forest restoration and other plantations.
The tubes obtained from these recycled plastics have excellent thermal and mechanical properties that manage to avoid UV radiation, minimize the entry of blue light, and reduce only a little the inflow of red light. Also, significant amounts of agricultural plastics can be used to make these tubular shelters and take full advantage of the same.
According to the website Netafim, an innovative alternative emerged in the United Kingdom where a company introduced the concept of buying plastic agro-wastes from farmers on a weight base each year. While farmers dump their plastic waste, the company uses the pellets as raw materials for a variety of products like animal shelters, fence posts, etc.
In the United States, an organization collects used drip irrigation tapes from farmers, recycles them into resins, and sells them as raw materials to plastic packaging centres, reducing the environmental impact of wasted drip irrigation tapes.
Biodegradable plastic mulching films are another alternative to recycling that can be sustainable as circular plastic, since these films are a less invasive and greener option that manages to reduce the amount of agricultural waste that results from the use of plastics. However, it is necessary to understand that there are regulations that allow the use of biodegradable mulching, provided that the materials used in their manufacture have a purely biological basis. Regarding this topic, we also invite you to read our post on bioplastics in agriculture.
Efforts are currently underway to collect and recycle the majority of agricultural plastics globally; however, it is essential to act quickly and take radical action.