Eunomia was commissioned by the European Commission to carry out a study to identify the environmental impacts associated with conventional and biodegradable agricultural plastics and make recommendations of measures to be implemented to reduce these impacts.

The EU’s Plastics Strategy has laid the foundations for a new circular plastics economy, where plastic materials are kept in circulation for as long as possible through reuse, repair, recycling and the prevention of waste. As part of this, the European Commission is developing a policy framework for biodegradable plastics, based on an assessment of the applications where such use can be beneficial to the environment.

Around 63% of agri-plastic non-packaging waste generated in the EU was collected in 2019, with the fate of the remaining 37% unknown. Despite having a high potential for recycling, only 24% of the non-packaging agri-plastic waste placed on the market annually is actually recycled – meanwhile, only 60% of the waste generated  is made up of plastic, with the remainder being contaminants in the form of soil and organic matter.

Our study:

  • Analysed the problem drivers associated with improper collection, low reuse and recycling of conventional agri-plastics, and the technical and non-technical barriers impeding higher recycling and reuse rates.
  • Undertook a similar analysis in respect of biodegradable agri-plastics.
  • Identified objectives and policy measures.
  • Screened policy measures and assessed retained options qualitatively and quantitatively.
  • Made recommendations for the Commission in terms of measures to be implemented, along with future research requirements.

Recommendations for the use of conventional and biodegradable agri-plastics include:

  • Encourage member states to implement EPR to meet their obligations under the Waste Framework Directive in respect of agricultural plastic waste.
  • Incorporate biodegradable plastics into agri-plastics EPR schemes, but exempt biodegradable plastic producers from contributing to EPR collection and treatment costs as they would not apply to these plastics as they are left to biodegrade in the environment.
  • Only certified biodegradable plastics should be exempted from EPR collection and treatment costs.
  • Carry out more research to understand whether the introduction of a minimum mandatory thickness for conventional mulch films could minimize the risk of tearing during the removal process and minimize the release of plastics into the environment.

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