Non-plastic alternatives include more than packaging

“It’s still very resource-intensive to produce biodegradable film because you have to have the land to grow the crop,” explained Judith Conroy, a researcher at Coventry University in the UK. The corn used to make starch films may have been grown with pesticides and harmful fertilizers and the manufacturing process distributed. “We’ve used a mulch made of maize grown in northern Italy, processed in Belgium, then transported to the UK.” said Conroy. “It’s biodegradable, but it’s not without a carbon footprint.”

Farmers working with Coventry University to phase out toxins from organic farming in Europe have pointed to the potential of using existing biodegradable scraps on their farm like grass clippings, hay, and fibers as mulching. “In a broader range of strategies, a good agricultural system is all integrated,” said Francis Rayns, a researcher on the project. “It’s not all about having weeds as an [isolated] problem. It’s having crop rotation and choosing a variety of crops, having sufficient soil fertility…all of those things interacting will make things less of a problem. So there’s less need to sort of reach for a technological solution.”

Scotland prevents agricultural plastic waste from being burned in fields. Both Rayns and Conroy think that regulations on agricultural plastics would both benefit the environment, and level the playing field for farmers.

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