New legislation is cutting packaging waste in half, reports Gilly Johnson.
COUNT the number of black household rubbish bags that you put out for collection each week. Three? Four? Five? The odds are that this figure will have doubled – if not more – over the past 10 years.
Now consider the waste packaging generated by the farm business. In the same time scale, the volume of waste has shrunk dramatically; by about 50%. And containers which are a headache to dispose of – such as aluminium cans, glass bottles, and tins – have vanished.
The supply trade deserve the credit. But theres more to come. By 2001, there will be even less pack waste to deal with. If new European legislation achieves its target, expect to see todays heap of empty packs cut by half again.
Pesticide manufacturers and distributors are now seeking ways of satisfying the new rules. On farm, it will mean fewer packs requiring disposal, recycling, and the introduction of returnable schemes.
At the same time, other new legislation will encourage the more effective disposal of the packs that remain. This will help satisfy both environmental concerns and issues of health and safety.
Ross Dyer of the British Agrochemical Association has the job of explaining the legislation to the industry. Its been a tough task, he admits – because of the "incredible complexity" of the new laws, which came into effect in March this year.
In simple terms, the requirement for a 50% reduction in pack waste has been shared out amongst the agrochemical supply chain. Manufacturers have been given the lions share, but distributors must also contribute. However, growers dont have to do anything – they only benefit.
Monitoring the companys efforts is the tricky part, but the UK government has found a clever, but complicated answer. Any company that cant make its direct contribution to a reduction in packaging – for whatever reason has to sign up instead to a compliance scheme.
This body undertakes to contract out waste recovery and recycling on behalf of its members, and then certify to the government that legislation is being satisfied.
Heres how it works: If a company issues products in 10t of plastic containers, then it automatically has a requirement to recover and recycle 5t of plastic packs. But this recovered plastic doesnt necessarily have to be its own packaging. Via a compliance scheme, it can pay someone else to recover other plastic waste instead. All that is needed is a certificate to show that 5t of plastic recovery and recycling has been done.
So in effect the compliance scheme creates a brokerage system for waste recycling and recovery. By March 1997, many agrochemical manufacturers had signed up to Valpack, the largest such compliance scheme.
The good news for growers is that this extra cost is unlikely to be passed on via higher product prices. "In terms of cost per hectare, growers will not feel any pain," predicts Mr Dyer.
On farm, some changes are already evident as a result of the legislation. Its not just the fact that more products are arriving in water-soluble bags, or as highly active compounds in tiny containers.
Now undergoing practical testing are schemes involving re-fillable containers. Two notable initiatives are the returnable kegs being developed by Cyanamid and AgrEvo (Ecomatic and Echo System respectively) and Novartis LinkPak re-fillable container.
Other initiatives have been looked at, including petrol-pump style agrochemical dispensers at major depots, and recovery of waste plastic from farms. Mr Dyer remains unconvinced of the benefits of waste plastic recovery, due to the logistical problems of collecting from isolated rural areas.
"When you add up all the energy expended in collecting waste packs, environmentally its probably better to dispose of waste on farm," he suggests.