If the world's growing population is to be fed, it is essential to boost foodstuff production yields and to make optimum use of resources such as waste plastics such as films, netting and containers, delegates to the 2nd International Recycling Forum on Agricultural Plastics were told.
According to Jan Bauer, commercial director of RIGK GmbH and the EPRO (the European Association of Plastics Recycling and Recovery Organisations) working group on recycling plastics from agriculture, the significant potential for recycling such plastics often still remains untapped.
“Collection systems aimed at reprocessing these used plastics in order to put them to new use as a raw material are already in operation around the world to bring about change in this situation. Further increasing the number and efficiency of these systems entails intensifying cooperation between all manufacturers, traders, users, collectors and recyclers of used agricultural plastics, with the involvement of governmental and non-governmental organisations,” he said.
However, he added that one important factor is to further increase awareness among farmers, as the first link in the collection chain, that they very largely determine the cleanness of the collected material and thus its economic value for recycling.
The symposium was organised by RIGK, which organises and overseas the collection and recycling pf plastic packaging in Germany. Located in Wiesbaden the event was held in collaboration with the European Association of Plastics Recycling & Recovery Organisations (EPRO).
In his keynote speech, Professor Helmut Maurer from the EU Commission, DG Environment, Unit C2 said: "Waste Management" emphasised the necessity for a change in consciousness in industry and society at large as the basis for optimising the use of raw materials. He explicitly called upon all stakeholders to turn away from a linear economy, that is based on a take, make and dispose model, towards a circular economy.
Rainer Mantel of BKV GmbH noted that while accounting for only 3.3% of European plastics consumption, nevertheless come to the huge total of some 1.6 million tonnes annually.
APE’s Bernhard Le Moine had interesting figures to hand which revealed the breakdown of agricultural plastics in terms of material, form and quantity and the differences with regard to the production of animal and vegetable products.
The subject of the second block of presentations was experience with specific collection systems for used agricultural plastics which are in place for instance in Germany.
Highlighted schemes include the PAMIRA system organised by RIGK for empty plant protection product packaging), Belgium (AgriRecover), Ireland (Irish Farm Films Producers Group Ltd.), Canada (CleanFarms) and Poland (Container Management System PSOR).
The second day of the forum started with "Drivers for recycling", the subject of a lively presentation by Anton Emans (PRE) from the Netherlands. His central idea was to disclose the use of recycled materials and so create a more positive image for them.
The remaining presentations revolved around the significance of targeted communications to achieving defined goals and of recycling-friendly design of plastics products and documenting the success of such design by the introduction of a classification scheme known as RecyClass (Antonio Furfari, Plastics Recyclers Europe, Belgium) along similar lines to the energy label scheme.
Francis Huysman (Val-I-Pac, Belgium) kicked off with an overview of the export of plastic scrap to Asia, the changing situation for recyclers located there (increasing wage costs, stricter regulation) and the anticipated effects on Europe.
One highlight was information and an associated discussion about the opportunities for and limitations of biodegradable plastics, for example in the form of mulch films, in agricultural use. Michael Baxter (RPC, UK) in this connection emphasised the necessity of creating consistent, reliable markets for conventional recycled materials and so restricting the disruptive use of incompatible biopolymers.
Finally, following on from this issue, Herman van Roost (Total, Belgium) presented a PE-based polymer with particularly good overall properties.
As a blend component with recycled material, it was said to enable the production of a new material having properties surpassing those of the conventional virgin material. According to van Roost, this would offer considerable potential for overcoming existing reservations about recycled materials.
Peter Sundt, EPRO Secretary General, picked up on Bauer's idea and gave the participants some food for thought on their journeys home:
"As in many other ways in their daily work, farmers play a major part in determining whether all the measures around the world relating to the utilisation of used agricultural plastics will bear fruit.
Farmers must be still more closely involved in our projects than in the past, being the focal point of all the activities and having it within their power to assist them by optimising not only the quality of the collected material but also collection yields.
They are, however, not the only players on the field. Managing used agricultural plastics is a challenge which goes beyond regional, national and EU-controlled projects. Lasting success depends on all stakeholders collaborating globally across projects and working in harmony as a united team."
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