IT’S pretty much a given that farm plastic disposal is now moving up the agenda to reduce waste and emissions from agriculture – now a group of the UK’s farm plastic collectors have announced the creation of the UK Farm Plastic Responsibility Scheme (UKFPRS).

This starts this month and will provide farmers and contractors with a dedicated scheme to help them recycle bale stretch-film, net-wrap, twine and other non-packaging agricultural plastics.

This project aims to transform the recycling of agri-plastics after their useful life on-farm ends. Called the Agriculture,

Plastic and Environment UK (known as APE UK) it aims to fully control the life cycle of agri-plastics and the ambitious target is for 80% of such waste – which is about 44,000 tonnes, or 4% of of the total plastic consumption in the UK – to be recycled within five years, rather than being sent for landfill or incineration.

Burning farm plastic was banned in Scotland at the beginning of last year and there have been significant problems in the management of this, especially given cleanliness and storage issues. It is hoped that this new scheme will help minimise problems and maximise uplift.

Today farmers have limited options available to them beyond landfill with fewer than 35% of used agri-plastics in the UK being collected for recycling. In other countries in Europe operating a national collection scheme, more than 70% of used agri-plastics are collected – a significant reduction in the landfill or incineration of these plastics.

One of those plastic manufacturers taking part in the scheme is Tama. Its UK commercial manager, Warren Tatton, commented: “We have been working closely with other producers to bring the APE scheme in the UK to a position that really deals with the presence of used netwrap, twine and film on the farm.

“The key is support from all quarters of agriculture, from central government, to recyclers, to farmers. With experience of many schemes already up and running in many countries, Tama and other producers have made the UK a top priority to deal with used farm plastic.

“Our world-leading innovations over the years of reducing the amount of plastic on each bale, whilst maintaining strength and performance, is just one part of the producer’s responsibility. Another is dealing with the end of product life in a way that is cost effective, non-legislative and that provides a service which will result in a better environment for future generations of farmers.”

The should tackle head-on the mounting pressure for much more to be done about plastics waste recycling. It is a responsible environmental commitment which the industry can be proud of – as it turns its back on landfill and burning.

Carlo Banchero, project manager for APE UK, said the plastics-in-the-environment debate isn’t a war on plastic, it’s a war on plastic waste.

“Plastics are absolutely essential to the productivity and efficiency of UK farming and account for just 3.5% of total UK plastics use.

“It would be a retrograde step for them to be banned or become uneconomic,” he said adding that currently only 25% of non-packaging farmers plastic went for recycling. “Most farmers just don’t have the option to do the right thing,” said Mr Banchero. “APE UK will fix that.”

The scheme will help the industry meet its environmental obligations and deliver a valuable feedstock for recycling, as part of the circular economy.

Similar schemes are already working well across Europe. Ireland’s collection scheme, IFFPG, started in 2001 and collects 71% of such waste (though with legislative support). Similar numbers are being achieved through voluntary schemes in France and Germany, and schemes are underway in Spain and several other European countries.

The scheme also has the support of the NFU, Defra and the

Environment Agency. Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Theresa Villiers, has committed to a voluntary approach based on extended producer responsibility, rather than legislation. Funding will be via a levy, equivalent to £20 per tonne.

The entire supply chain, including manufacturers, distributors, farmers, co-ops and contractors will be equally involved, with APE UK run by a board representing all those sectors. Manufacturers accounting for 80% of the UK market have signed up.

APE UK is to ensure collection firms extend services across the UK and economies of scale should mean collection costs fall from the current £120-200/t.

The target is for 80% of the UK’s 44,000 tonnes of non-packaging agri-plastics to be collected for recycling within five years. The ambitious “but entirely achievable”

High levels of contamination mean agricultural plastic waste currently has little commercial value, even after thorough washing, so farmers need to segregate and store the waste correctly.

To improve the efficiency of recycling APE Europe is undertaking significant research, including better ways of cleaning mulch film, which can carry up to four tonnes of soil contamination per one tonne of mulch film.

“You’d be amazed at what gets thrown in – plastic toilet seats, Wellington boots, anything remotely connected to plastics,” Mr Banchero commented, “but it’s often the wrong type of plastic.

For recycling to work we have to improve the quality of waste collected.”

Importantly, the scheme does not apply to plastics used in chemical cans or fertiliser sacks.