Technological watch

Environmental Sustainability of Plastic in Agriculture

This article investigates the environmental sustainability of plastic nets in agricultural environments based on published experimental data. This article focuses on biodegradable and synthetic plastics used in farms as mulching materials and shade materials/greenhouse covering materials (shade nets and plastic films) to protect plants from pests and extreme weather. The sustainability was determined by three factors, carbon footprint from cradle to the end of life (LCA), durability (resistance to photo-oxidation and high tensile strength), and affordability. The LCA analyses showed that the production of polyethylene (PE) requires less energy and generates low quantities of greenhouse gas equivalents. Beyond the LCA data, biodegradable polymers are sustainable based on biodegradability and compostability, ability to suppress weeds, control soil temperatures, and moisture, and augment fertigation and drip irrigation. However, existing technologies are a limiting factor because lab-based innovations have not been commercialized. In addition, industrial production of shade nets, plastic greenhouse covers, and mulching materials are limited to synthetic plastics. The bio-based plastic materials are sustainable based on biodegradability, and resistant to photo-oxidation. The resistance to UV degradation is an essential property because solar radiation cleaves C-C bonds, which in turn impact the mechanical strength of the materials. In brief, the sustainability of plastics in farms is influenced by LCA data, mechanical and optical properties, and performance relative to other materials.

Publication date: 24/07/2020

Author: Chrysanthos Maraveas

Reference: doi: 10.3390/agriculture10080310



This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 1914.