The study will investigate how plastics are currently used in the agricultural sector and how the materials are managed at the end of their lives


The research will be used to form the EU's policies around agricultural plastics (Credit: Pixabay)

Research has started to investigate the environmental impact of conventional and biodegradable agricultural plastics used across the European Union (EU).

The project, conducted by UK-based consultancy Eunomia on behalf of the European Commission, could result in a series of policy actions taken by the trade bloc.

Plastics are widely used in the agricultural industry, such as in mulch films to protect soil, in tunnels to protect crops and for water irrigation.

Eunomia senior project manager Caroline Bradley, who is heading the research, 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 the widespread use of plastics in agriculture, it’s important to understand the problems that might arise, and how they can best be tackled.”


What will the research in agricultural plastics investigate?

The first phase of the research will focus on understanding the ways plastics are used in the agricultural industry.

It will also investigate how each material is managed at the end of its life and the impacts of this.

As part of this work, Eunomia will collect information on the volume of plastics placed on the market and the different polymers used for these products.

The team will look at the rate these materials are either collected, reused or recycled, and how much is being sent to landfill or incinerated.

agricultural plastics
Mulch films are commonly used by agricultural workers to protect crops (Credit: Pixabay)

The research will consist of a high-level review across the EU, accompanied by an in-depth analysis of 12 member states, including those with the largest agricultural sectors.

The data collected will form part of a baseline model for plastics that could be used and managed in agriculture up until 2040.

Once the researchers fully understand the issues with their end-of-life management, they will develop a suite of potential policy options.

These options will then be shortlisted for the final report presented to the European Commission.

Results from the study are due to be published in 2021.


How are agricultural plastics currently managed in the EU?

Some individual member states have national regulations in place to manage the recovery of agricultural plastics, however, there’s no common regulation across the EU.

One country that has its own strategy for dealing with these materials is Greece – which has been selected as a case study by Eunomia.

The country has a national collection scheme targeting agricultural plastics.

It’s also looking to introduce an extended producer responsibility scheme – where brand owners and manufacturers pay for the collection and disposing of their waste – for agricultural films.