Producers to be responsible for plastic farm waste

Producer responsibility regulations that cover plastic packaging materials on farms are to be rolled out to cover other plastics used by the agricultural industry.

English farms produce an estimated 86,000 tonnes of plastic waste every year and existing regulations set targets for the recovery and recycling of packaging such as feed sacks and bags for fertilisers and pesticides.

But over three quarters of the plastic waste from farms is not from packaging and currently schemes to recover it are few and far between.

The diversity of the waste will also pose its own challenges, with farm producing everything from silage plastic, greenhouse and tunnel films and mulch and crop covers to baling twine, netting and tree guards.

New plans announced by Defra are set to address the problem and open up a new stream for the waste management sector.

The regulations, which will be developed in collaboration with the devolved administrations, would cover England, Scotland and Wales.

Northern Ireland will consider introducing regulations following consultation.

“It’s too early to say exactly what form the regulations will take but there is a £1m pilot programme being worked up at the moment that’s going to inform their development,” a Defra spokesperson told edie.

“Then it will all be subject to consultation.”

The pilot will be funded by the Business Resource Efficiency and Waste (BREW) programme and will look at how farm plastic waste can best be collected for recovery from farms within the formal structure of a producer responsibility scheme.

While dates for the roll out are also still to be decided it looks likely that the regulations will be in force by 2007/2008.

Their announcement comes at a time when Parliament is set to consider controls putting farmers in line with other businesses when it comes to disposing of waste (see related story).

The agricultural waste regulations mean that farmers will no longer able to dispose of waste, including farm plastics, in ‘farm dumps’ without a landfill permit.

The open burning of plastic waste will also been banned.

Local Environmental Quality Minister Ben Bradshaw said that Defra had weighted up whether to bring in separate producer responsibility regulations or a voluntary scheme to deal with the collection of farm plastics and that responses to a consultation on this indicated that a majority of responses strongly favoured a statutory scheme.

“We have considered carefully whether to bring in regulations to deal with farm plastics or whether to use a voluntary approach,” said the Minister.

“Responses to our consultation on the Waste Management Regulations indicated that the majority of stakeholders were in favour of the legislation including, importantly, the businesses who would bear the cost – the producers of agricultural films themselves. These companies were unanimously in favour of legislation.

“Voluntary schemes are susceptible to free riding, a problem which led to the collapse of a previous voluntary scheme.

“Therefore, in this case, legislation is the right approach. It avoids importers undercutting domestic prices and gaining a competitive advantage. A regulatory regime will also provide the right signal and the certainty to stimulate investment in collection and recycling.”

by Sam Bond

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