Environmental awareness has come a long way since the first celebration of World Environment Day in 1973.
It was December 15, 1972, that the United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution to designate June 5 as World Environment Day. Announcing the news, the Assembly urged “Governments and the organisations in the United Nations system to undertake on that day every year world-wide activities reaffirming their concern for the preservation and enhancement of the environment.”
That same month, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) came into existence: in the 50 years since, World Environment Day has been the lightning rod to raise awareness and generate political momentum around a host of environmental issues and concerns.
Today, it’s a global platform for taking action on urgent environmental issues, helping drive change not only in the world’s consumption habits but also national and international environmental policies.
Beat plastic pollution in 2023
In 2023, the UN is using World Environment Day for a call to beat plastic pollution. Every year, the world works its way through 400 million tonnes of plastic – and every day, the equivalent of 2,000 garbage trucks full of plastic is dumped. Dumped into rivers, seas and lakes, this has catastrophic consequences, with microplastics pervading food, water and air.
It’s not just food, water and air – it’s our soils, too. At FertiGlobal, we strongly support the UN’s mission to focus on plastic pollution, particularly because of the importance of keeping our soils healthy and free from pollution. Research shows how the presence of plastic in soils can have a deleterious effect on soil health, productivity and biodiversity. Healthy soils mean healthy crops, which in turn produce an abundance of healthy food.
We’re especially pleased with the emergence of a legally binding agreement to end plastic pollution but recognise that agriculture can often be part of the problem. We’re one of many companies for whom plastic plays an important role; indeed, the entire plant protection industry relies on plastics to ensure safe, effective and inexpensive packaging to convey products between their point of manufacture and their application. Use of plastic bottles for our products leads to savings of up to 40% on distribution fuel costs, for example, with resulting reductions in emissions and pollution.
Yet many plastics used in agriculture are, by their nature, single-use. Besides plastic packaging, plastic products used in agriculture include mulch and silage films, irrigation equipment, fruit netting, fleece, and various coatings used for fertilizers and seeds.
Despite the benefits these various plastics bring to agriculture, when improperly disposed of – agriculture accounts for around two per cent of the global usage of plastics – they become a threat to food security, food safety and human health.
At FertiGlobal, we believe in doing whatever we can to reduce and eliminate the environmental issues connected with the use of plastics in agriculture. Our focus is a more sustainable agriculture: that means we must promote sustainability across all dimensions, up and down the value chain.
For our part, we’re already taking steps towards a more responsible use of plastics. For instance, our roll-out of smaller volume packaging not only makes sense in addressing the needs of smaller volume producers, but also directly reduces the volume of plastic we require. We’re also keen to ensure that we’re responsible in helping our customers to do the right thing with plastics: reduce, re-use, recycle, wherever possible.
But re-using or recycling certain agricultural plastics is difficult or impossible. Schemes for collection and disposal of agricultural plastics vary widely between countries, even within Europe. Farmers in France have a voluntary collection and recycling scheme across all products, while in Norway the schemes are mandatory. Research by FAO in 2019 found that many countries have no dedicated pesticide container management plans
Be responsible on your farm
To mark World Environment Day in 2023, and to help our customers beat plastic pollution themselves, we put together some brief pointers:
What are all the ways in which your farm uses plastics?
Which pose the highest risk?
The FAO has assessed [https://www.fao.org/3/cb7856en/cb7856en.pdf] various agricultural plastic products, compiling a relative risk rating.
Which ones can you do something about? For example, polymer-coated slow-release fertilizers have the highest risk – but these are beginning to be superseded by true biodegradable products.
How can you be more responsible?
Be sure to register for any mandatory agricultural plastics collection schemes in your country;
Where mandatory schemes don’t exist, be sure to comply with at least the minimum requirements in your country, but;
Investigate opportunities to go beyond the bare minimum required, and;
Don’t take shortcuts – always dispose of plastics responsibly.
We can’t avoid plastics in agriculture, but if we’re going to continue to use them – and protect our soils, water, air and health – we have to be responsible.
Why not tell us what you’re doing on your farm? Use the hashtag #BeatAgPlasticPollution to share your story!