Plastic Pollution in Agriculture
No doubt the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organisation feels it’s made a ground-breaking discovery with the 2021 release of its “Assessment of Agricultural Plastics and their Sustainability – A Call for Action”
This is an issue that conservationists have been warning of for decades. The Clarence Environment Centre first complained about the blueberry industry’s transforming landscapes into a “sea of plastic” in 2008, and specifically noted “plastic pollution” in a letter to Local Land services in June 2018.
In frustration over the Federal Government’s announcement of a ‘war’ in plastic pollution, in which agricultural use of plastic received no mention at all, the Centre wrote to the Environment Minister Ley in March 2021.
We pointed out that plastic use by the virtually unregulated intensive horticultural industry, which has ‘exploded’ across the region in recent years, needed to be addressed.
We informed Ms Ley that every hectare of berry orchard contains 4 kilometres of 2m black plastic sheeting over the mounded rows, with 4 km of plastic drip irrigation hose buried below. Another 4km of 2m wide plastic matting is often spread between rows to smother weeds, grass etc.
In recent years, to improve efficiency, blueberry plants are nursery grown to virtual maturity in plastic pots, which are then planted while still in the pot, between 2 and 3 thousand pots per hectare. We understand the optimal productive life of blueberries is about 5 years, after which they are discarded along with the pots, after which another 2,500 new pots are planted.
Of course, there’s plastic water tanks, irrigation hoses, and all the nursery necessities, involving seeding trays, tubes, name tags, all of which are single use. Finally, that entire mass is covered by plastic igloos or netting, another 10,000 square metres per hectare. Do the maths!
The UN report adds to that list and reported that “world agriculture used 12.5 million tonnes of plastic for plant and animal production in 2019, and 37.3 million tonnes for food packaging “.
It seems we know the problem, but nothing’s being done as usual.