UK Farm Plastic Responsibility Scheme to launch in the New Year

Polythene crop covers on a farm on the Isle of Wight
Polythene crop covers are easily contaminated by soil, making them difficult to recycle
A group of the UK’s farm plastic collectors have announced the creation of the UK Farm Plastic Responsibility Scheme (UKFPRS) which will start in January 2020.

The scheme marks the coming together of farm plastic collection companies across the UK – including Farm XS and Agri-cycle in England, Emerald Isle Recycle in Northern Ireland, and Birch Plastics in Wales – to improve the ways in which farm plastics, such as crop covers and silage wraps, are recycled.

Plastics are a prevalent material in the farming industry, with 44,000 tonnes of ‘agri-plastics’ placed on the UK market every year, while 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.

Agri-plastics play a vital role in improving the efficiency of farming, controlling parameters such as temperature, light and pests. However, there is currently little detailed information on the tonnages of agri-plastics reused, recycled or sent to landfill across UK farms.

Agriculture, Plastic and Environment UK (APE UK) estimates that only 35 per cent of these agri-plastics are collected for recycling, and one of the aims of the new UKFPRS is to gather more information on this through effective auditing. Though the exact plans are still under discussion, it is likely that farm accountants will be asked to verify the quantities of plastics used, keeping costs and extra admin to a minimum.

Covering both packaging and non-packaging plastics, the UKPRS aims to:

• Provide audited totals of the quantity of farm plastic collected and recycled;
• Further increase the volume and quality of plastic recycled;
• Educate farmers to reduce contamination within their waste plastic;
• Provide the supply chain with corporate responsibility regarding plastics they put into the market;
• Assist with exploiting new technology for the reprocessing of farm plastic; and
• Lobby government and other bodies as required for support to increase plastic recycling facilities within the UK.

The UKFPRS, which will be open to all UK farm plastic collectors, will operate on a not-for-profit basis and will be funded by the collectors. There will be no additional cost to farmers and, unlike extended producer responsibility (EPR) framework in other sectors, no levy on new plastic products. UKFPRS collector members will be identifiable by their use of the UKFPRS logo.

Mark Webb of Farm XS, one of the members of the new UKFPRS, says the scheme aims to be a “light touch, rather than a complete takeover,” building on existing infrastructure that has a strong uptake of waste plastics collection, but currently has “inadequate capacity for reprocessing”.

As part of the scheme, Webb says members hope to educate farmers on the need for recycling and how to go about presenting plastic for collection – one of the major issues with agri-plastics such as crop covers and polythene films is that they require a lot of cleaning before they can be reprocessed. By cleaning and separating plastics into different types, contamination can be avoided, making the recycling process more streamlined.

The UKFPRS represents another step towards improving farm plastic sustainability. Last month (1 October), APE UK launched a national collection scheme for non-packaging agricultural plastics such as silage wrap and crop covers, giving farmers, distributors and producers shared responsibility for the plastic collection.

The Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) also introduced a ban on the incineration of Scottish farm plastics this year – an exemption had meant that Scottish farms were able to send their plastics for incineration, despite the UK’s Waste Management Regulations 2006 banning this method of waste disposal in England and Wales.

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