The first U.N. Ocean Conference in five years ended recently in Lisbon, Portugal, with Secretary-General António Guterres calling for a global commitment by businesses, governments and individuals to do more to preserve and protect the planet’s seas.
But why aren’t governments meeting to discuss the agricultural plastic emergency?
According to a U.N. Food & Agriculture Organization (FAO) report on plastics in agriculture, the world’s soil is likely more filled with plastic pollution than the oceans are.
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The report says that “commonly used agricultural products, such as non-biodegradable plastic mulching films, greenhouse films and polymer-coated slow-release fertilizers, have a tendency to break down in the soil, leaving behind pieces of plastic ranging in size from large to microscopic. These pieces have unknown, yet potentially detrimental, implications for ecosystems and human health.”
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One of the major milestones is the U.N. Plastic Treaty Roadmap drafted earlier this year. The effort, a first of its kind and titled “End plastic pollution: Towards an internationally legally binding instrument” is expected to be made final by 2024. It focuses on the full lifecycle of plastic, including production, design and waste. The agreement, if enforced two years from now as legally binding, is expected to be a major blow to oil
companies that make plastic and prefer to steer the plastic conversation centered on waste instead of the original packaging contents.
“ Long-term plastic solutions using better materials also cap farming expenses at the outset, which is attractive to a farmer’s bottom line and ultimately keeps the shelf prices of food stable. ”
Fortunately, new technologies are solving the circularity of plastic to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels
Circularity is the ability to more efficiently use plastic (or any resource) by keeping material in use for as long as possible, getting the most from repeat use, and then recovering the material to make new products. Once candidate for circularity is polyethylene terephthalate (PET). It’s a clear, strong and lightweight plastic that is widely used for packaging foods and beverages, especially convenience-sized soft drinks, juices and water. Virtually all single-serving and 2-liter bottles of carbonated soft drinks and water sold in the U.S. are made from PET.
Sustainable ag initiatives are critical to meeting our food needs without compromising our farmers’ ability to prosper. Increasing yields while reducing negative environmental impacts is now possible using new technologies and optimizing existing resources, including sunlight.
The global business community has to lead the way in order for countries to finally turn the corner in the reduction of plastic pollution with technology, innovation, better product design and developing environmentally friendly alternatives to conventional materials and practices. With efforts underway to improve waste management and increase recycling, climate goals might actually be achieved.
Jonathan Destler is founder of Opti-Harvest, which creates light-altering filters and a software monitoring system to assist farmers in increasing the yield from their planted crops.