The use of plastic in the agricultural sector has been tremendously intensified over the past 30 years. In order to be able to offer the market then same fruits and vegetables throughout the year and in optimal conditions, greenhouses have been erected as the majority cultivation system. In other words, most agricultural products in Spain are produced under plastic.
It is indeed an extended method around the world and, while 80% is concentrated in East Asian countries, around 15% can be found in Mediterranean countries, with Italy and Spain being the areas where they are offered a majority use. In Spain, the communities of Andalusia and Murcia, as well as the Canary Islands, are the regions whose dependence on agriculture has a direct impact on the volume of plastic waste generated. So much so that agriculture is the fifth sector consumer of plastics in Spain.
Uses and benefits of plastics in agriculture
If for some reason the plastic has flooded agriculture it’s because it’s a simple and economical technology that has created the ideal conditions for optimal development of the crop, protecting it from the inclement conditions, making better use of irrigated water or conserving moisture, among other factors.
The construction of greenhouses, plastic tunnels, the use of mulch roofs, the coating of irrigation works, such as canals and reservoirs, the use of bags for hydroponic crops, among other uses, they make plastic a material without apparent rival in terms of profitability.
Although it’s a material that can be reused relatively easily in the other areas, it isn’t always the case in the agricultural sector, as it tends to deteriorate when exposed to ultraviolet radiation and temperatures. For example, this is the case with the plastic used in mulch technique, since it’s plastic film that can defend crops and soil from the action of atmospheric agents.
Although many of the plastics used in agriculture cannot be reused, it’s possible to recycle them for another use. Moreover, even if treatment for recycling isn’t feasible, plastics can also be converted into energy. Unfortunately, some of the plastic used in agriculture ends up in landfills, burned or abandoned in the environment.
Facts about agricultural plastic waste
Plastic greenhouses have made it possible to optimize production processes by replacing the old traditional glass roofs. However, this transformation has given rise to one of the main environmental problems arising from the primary sector in relation to agricultural plastic waste.
In 2015, the bulk of this waste in Spain came from 40% greenhouses and 32% from irrigation. Materials such as polyethylene or PVC, present in countless everyday products, are also protagonists in the agricultural activity.
In Almeria, one of the key areas of extensive agriculture in Spain, tons of waste from greenhouses accumulate on beaches, open fields, abandoned plots and rural roads. It’s estimated that in this province 33.500 tons of plastics are generated each year, of which 85% are recycled according to data from de Junta de Andalucía. That is, 5.000 tons remain untreated each year.
Recycling plastics as a great challenge of the 21st century
At Grupo SPR we are fully aware of the challenge of recycling plastics from the agricultural sector, as well as plastic waste from other industries. Together with our Belgian partner Ad Rem, with whom we started collaborating in 2017, we have developed systems for separating plastics by flotation.