REVOLVE: Agriculture's Second Green Life

For its summer edition, the prestigious REVOLVE Magazine published an article called “Agriculture’s Second Green Life”- a brief review of plastics films in agriculture and the recent shift towards biodegradable plastics.

During the last century's agricultural boom, the use of plastic arose from the intensification of production, reduction of chemicals and water for irrigation and modification of crop cycles to cover demands. The forms the plastic took varied from greenhouse covers, to mulching, nets pots and silage covers.

However, plastic material recovery faces many issues regarding time, costs and waste management. Short-term solutions have been illegal burning, uncontrolled dispersal to the environment and landfill disposal.

Impurities in old films (soil or crop residues) represent up to 80% of the total weight of the waste material, complicating disposal.
Fragments of non-collected plastics have contaminated the soil and their presence in the most superficial strata of the soil has caused a reduction in production of about 20%. 

Europe has begun to pay attention to the harmful aspects of increased plastic presence in our soil. "Austria, Belgium, Germany and Denmark have banned the disposal of plastic films in landfills(...) Other countries like France, Germany, the UK and Norway have organized voluntary schemes of collection and disposal of agricultural plastics."

Biodegradable plastics have now appeared as a viable alternative, saving on costs and timing of collection and disposal and making differentiated agriplastics collection cleaner.

A 2009 study in Italy showed that the use of biodegradable mulch films allows for a saving of 500kg/CO2 eq per mulched hectare (60% of a hectare is covered in film).

The most favourable crops for biodegradable mulching are those with medium-short agricultural cycles: vegetables and fruits such as courgettes, lettuce, tomatoes, pepper, melon and watermelon. Similar crops are addressed during the Multibiosol project, such as courgettes, tomatoes, pepper and melons.

Many users in Italy and even companies such as Unilever have benefitted from the shift to biodegradable plastics.

New possibilities to explore have opened up, such as high-income crops such as vine, and other uses such as silage, packaging, etc.

With regards to policy influence, the 2007-2013 CAP included films for biodegradable mulching in the environmental measures of the Common Market Organization in Italy, France and Spain. There is no doubt that the new CAP for 2014-2020 will provide important instruments of support to biodegradable plastics.

To read the complete article (in PDF format), click here.