Rounding up industry’s soft plastics

    11 May 2023

    It’s a Catch-22 with plastic – the very thing that makes it useful also makes it problematic. Soft plastics are one of the most difficult materials to recycle and make up 66 per cent of plastics used in agriculture. But with the advancement of recycling technologies and CropLife’s long legacy of delivering genuine product stewardship initiatives, things are about to change.

    Plastic packaging plays an essential role in Australia’s agricultural industry, including protecting seed, pesticide and other agricultural inputs during transport, use and storage. Without commercial technologies and a viable collection and recycling program, packaging is left as on farm waste or sent to landfill at a cost both to farmers and the environment.

    Out of the 90,000 tonnes of plastic used in agriculture, just seven per cent is recycled. Just as there are many different kinds of plastic, different technologies must be developed to deal with their constituent chemistries.

    The drumMUSTER® program started by CropLife, is responsible for more than a third of Australian agriculture’s plastic recycling efforts. It uses traditional physical recycling methods that are limited to hard plastics like the two million HDPE chemical containers it collects each year. Since 1999 drumMUSTER® has recycled over 58,000 tonnes of hard plastic into new products like wheelie bins, park benches and bollards.

    drumMUSTER® is managed and operated by CropLife’s not-for-profit stewardship organisation Agsafe and strongly supported by important strategic partners including the National Farmers Federation.

    Soft plastics, such as those that make up agricultural plastic bags, have historically been more difficult to recycle due to their flexible and lightweight nature. Thankfully soft plastic recycling has come a long way in recent years, with significant advancements being made in the field. Today, innovative technologies like melt processing, pyrolysis and chemical recycling are enabling the conversion of soft plastic waste into useful products such as fuel, new plastic materials and even clothing.

    Some of these technologies are being developed right here in Australia, providing an exciting opportunity to establish bagMUSTER® – Australia’s first industry-led collection and recycling initiative for agricultural product bags.

    In strategic partnership with the Australian Seed Federation, CropLife recently announced Agsafe, as the bagMUSTER® service provider.

    Combined with the infrastructure of drumMUSTER® as a delivery model, it’s estimated that bagMUSTER® could remove another 22,000 tonnes of plastic from landfill each year and create a new circular economy for plastic.

    bagMUSTER® pilot collection sites are set to launch in 2023.

    Read more of the Winter 2023 edition of CropLinks here: CropLife Australia | CropLinks Winter 2023