Grow More with Less - Reducing Plastic Footprint in Agriculture

Agriculture, a major contributor in today’s global economy, is responsible for approximately 998 million tonnes of agricultural waste produced in a year worldwide. This number, largely disregarded and ignored, has seen a recent shift towards sustainable development and efficient waste management as it has become a major concern for all stakeholders.

Over the past decades, we’ve witnessed as well how the use of plastic in agriculture has garnered increasing global attention. Integral to most farm operations across all agricultural sectors, plastics have been replacing traditional materials at a rapid pace because of their increased production efficiency, ease of use, and cheaper cost. But, what about their disposal? Everything decomposes on this planet; everything except for PLASTIC.

Plastic Waste Dilemma

Getting rid of plastic waste poses a dilemma: taking used hoses and tapes to a landfill can be costly; burying, tossing, or burning the waste, on the other hand, prove to be ineffective methods as well, as one can lead to releasing pollutants into the environment, or creating safety hazards as it finds its way back to the food chain after degenerating into microplastics.

Emerging Innovative Recycling Solutions Worldwide

Policymakers, as well as responsible businesses, are coming up with easy and novel solutions to fight environmental challenges caused by the increased use of plastics in  farms. 

One such novel solution emerged in the UK, where one company introduced the concept of buying plastic agro-wastes from farmers on a weight-basis every year. While farmers offload their plastic waste, the company uses the pellets as raw materials for a variety of products like animal shelters, fence posts, etc.

Another organization in the U.S collects used drip irrigation tapes from farmers, recycles those into raisins and sell them as raw materials to plastic packaging centers, thus reducing the environmental impact of wasted drip irrigation tapes.

Regenerating Drip Irrigation with Recycled Drip Irrigation Hoses (“Driplines”)

The concept of “Grow More with Less” has taken an all new meaning in California, Salinas Valley, also known as “the Salad Bowl of the World,” where labor dynamics, and water efficiency issues pushed farmers to adopt single-use drip irrigation products in a most aggressive way; thus dramatically increasing  the use of plastics to the point where it was evident that farmers were now facing a new problem: How to dispose of all these plastic driplines in order to reduce the environmental footprint?

Disposal of plastic agricultural items such as drip irrigation tubing is an issue for many growers. Recognizing this dilemma, Netafim USA has found a way to recycle used irrigation tubes. With Netafim ReGen™ Recycling, getting rid of used irrigation tubing in an environmentally responsible way is just as reliable, easy and convenient.

Netafim ReGen Recycling collects recycled plastic irrigation tubing in California, right from the farms, which provides farmers with disposal convenience and cost savings. The used irrigation tubing/hose/tape is recycled to produce a recycled resin that is re-used in Agricultural, Mining and Landscape dripline applications. In the landscape, recycled content is critical for a number of sustainable building initiatives. 

Netafim USA has been at the forefront of irrigation tube recycling for over 10 years. Recently, Netafim ReGen Recycling operation has been awarded a $2 million grant from the California Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery. The grant will fund the expansion of Netafim’s recycling operation to collect, shred, wash, and pelletize an additional 9,612 tons per year of used irrigation tubing and remanufacture it into new irrigation tubing. The expansion will also contribute to the state’s economic growth with the creation of 15 new jobs.

Recycling Agricultural Waste - A Social Conscious Effort to Lead the Way

These and other initiatives worldwide demonstrate that employing vertical integration for recycling agricultural wastes is technologically feasible. The challenge here stands on a logistical, financial and environmental standpoint. Farmers want to be responsible. They have always been at the forefront of adopting new technologies and better practices. At the same time, adapting to these new trends can be challenging and require support that will help them make the transition to adopt new ways of dealing with plastic waste. 

Drip irrigation is a successful technique which has made a world of difference in the lives of many farmers worldwide, but it comes with a huge responsibility and a duty of proper waste disposal. While increasing the farm’s output is a major concern, it remains the responsibility of all stakeholders, farmers, processors, sellers and consumers to not leave a negative footprint on the environment.

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