We are excited to announce that we have been appointed by DG Environment to carry out one of the first studies into the end-of-life waste management of both conventional and biodegradable agricultural plastics across the European Union.

Plastics are widely used in agricultural practices, for example in mulch films to protect soil, as tunnels to protect the crops and for water irrigation etc, with a wide range of benefits. The aim of the project is to provide the European Commission with a series of recommendations on potential policy actions that could be taken to minimise the environmental impacts of agricultural plastics.

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

  • The volume of plastics placed on the market;
  • The applications of these plastics;
  • Different polymer types;
  • The rate of collection, reuse and recycling;
  • The volumes sent to landfill and incineration; and
  • Existing policies and handling of these plastics.

This research will consist of a high level review across the EU, accompanied by an in-depth analysis of twelve member states, including those with the largest agricultural sectors.

This data will feed into a baseline model of the use and management of agricultural plastics out to 2040. Once we have understood the issues with end-of-life management of agricultural plastics we will develop a suite of potential policy options. The impacts of these policy recommendations will be modelled relative to this baseline, and then shortlisted for the final report presented to the European Commission.

One of the countries selected as a case study is Greece, which has a national collection scheme targeting agricultural plastics. Greece makes a particularly interesting case study as the country is currently looking to introduce an EPR scheme for agricultural film in order to improve the collection, treatment and recycling of these types of plastics.

Caroline Bradley, our project lead, said:

“We’re excited to be taking the lead in 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.

Picture courtesy of Cjuneau via Flickr, CC BY 2.0.