According to the UN FAO report, 10 million tons of agricultural plastics are globally spread to soil, burnt in the open air and dumped. “The urgency for coordinated and decisive action cannot be understated.”, FAO says.
The report published by FAO on 7th December 2021 assesses the types and quantities of plastic products, their benefits and trade-offs and identifies sustainable alternative products or practices for products assessed as having high potential to cause harm to human and ecosystem health or having poor end-of-life management.
According to data collated by the agency’s experts, agricultural value chains each year use 12.5 million tonnes of plastic products. A further 37.3 million tonnes are used in food packaging. The crop production and livestock sectors were found to be the largest users, accounting for 10.2 million tonnes per year collectively, followed by fisheries and aquaculture with 2.1 million tonnes, and forestry with 0.2 million tonnes. Asia was estimated to be the largest user of plastics in agricultural production, accounting for almost half of global usage. In the absence of viable alternatives, demand for plastic in agriculture is only set to increase. Global demand for greenhouse, mulching and silage films is expected to increase by 50 percent, from 6.1 million tonnes in 2018 to 9.5 million tonnes in 2030.
The report identifies several solutions based on the 6R model (Refuse, Redesign, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, and Recover). Among other solutions, the authors include: adopting agricultural practices that avoid the use of plastics; elimitating the most polluting plastic products; substituting plastic products with natural or biodegradable alternatives.
Maria Helena Semedo, deputy director general at the FAO, said: “The report serves as a loud call for decisive action to curb the disastrous use of plastics across the agricultural sectors,”
“Soils are one of the main receptors of agricultural plastics and are known to contain larger quantities of microplastics than oceans,” she said. “Microplastics can accumulate in food chains, threatening food security, food safety and potentially human health.”
The full report prepared by Jane Gilbert, Marco Ricci and Richard H. Thompson under the supervision of Lev Neretin is available here.