Assessment of agricultural plastics and their sustainability: A call for action

As well as shedding light on agricultural plastic products that are used globally in a range of different value chains, the report also identifies sustainable alternative products and practices.

An estimated 12.5 million tonnes of plastic products are used every year in agricultural applications, according to the report Assessment of agricultural plastics and their sustainability: A call for action. The report was published by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) in December 2021. The greater part of these products is used in the vegetable, fruit, crop and livestock sectors followed by fisheries and aquaculture, and then forestry. Some 37.3 million tonnes of plastic products are used in food packaging.

The report identifies a range of agricultural plastic products that are highly likely to cause environmental harm and which should therefore be targeted as matter of priority. These products include fishing gear, products with a high potential for creating plastic and microplastic pollution, products with a high potential for releasing Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs), and non-biodegradable mulching films.

Key recommendations of the report are:

  • Avoiding the use of plastics through the adoption of more sustainable agricultural practices, such as conservation agriculture and cover crops instead of using mulching films.
  • Replacing products with more durable alternatives, such as glass and polycarbonate instead of greenhouse films.
  • Replacing short-term single-cycle products with reusable ones.
  • Establishing extended producer responsibility schemes.
  • Where appropriate, replacing non-biodegradable conventional polymers with biodegradable polymers with biodegradation properties adapted to their specific use.
  • Setting standards for products, associated equipment and use practices.
  • Introducing labelling of products to aid identification and traceability.
  • Redesigning business models so that manufacturers or distributers of plastic products provide them as part of service rather than a single transaction sale of goods.

The report is based on data obtained from peer-reviewed scientific papers and research reports by governmental and non-governmental organisations as well as on information from industry experts and relevant trade bodies. 

(FAO/ile)

Read more and download the report at FAO website

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