Agricultural plastics collection scheme launched

Agriculture, Plastic and Environment UK (APE UK) has launched a national collection scheme for non-packaging agricultural plastics.

From silage wrap to crop covers, ‘agri-plastics’ play a vital role in improving the efficiency of farming, controlling parameters such as temperature, light and pests.

White hay bales wrapped in plastic

With 44,000 tonnes of these plastics placed on the UK market every year, agri-plastics contribute to at least 60 per cent of agricultural production. However, only 35 per cent of these plastics are collected for recycling.

Aiming to provide farmers with a solution for the sustainable disposal of agri-plastics, APE UK’s national collection scheme, launched at the RECOUP conference in Peterborough on Thursday (26 September), will ensure equal and cost-effective access for all agricultural businesses under the principles of an extended producer responsibility (EPR) framework.

The collection scheme will cover the whole of the UK, and farmers, distributors and producers will have shared responsibility for the plastic collection. The scheme will also enable educational, technical and financial support through R&D, which will seek to improve the quality of the waste collected so as to improve the efficiency of recycling.

A problematic waste stream

Agri-plastics, although crucial for the farming industry, are a hugely problematic waste stream. Data from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) in 2010 revealed that around 85,000 tonnes of waste plastic was produced annually by the agricultural sector, much of which was difficult to recycle due to contamination from soil.

When used as crop cover, agri-plastics break down into fragments of microplastic, which are then left on the surface of the soil. 

Although the incineration of these plastics has been banned in England and Wales since 2005, the burning of agri-plastics was allowed in Scotland until January 2019, due to an exemption to environmental regulations. In August 2018, the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) vowed to end this exemption, banning the incineration of all farm plastics in Scotland.

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