Opinion

Are farmers victims of a failed recycling strategy?

Are farmers victims of a failed recycling strategy?

A recycling problem is brewing in Wales. Agricultural polythene, a plastic used in bale wraps, silage bags and ground covers, is no longer being collected. Instead, farmers are being asked to stockpile it on their farms while the government works out what to do with it. There’s the potential for it to head to landfill.

The issue stems from a long-term lack of investment in recycling facilities. It was cheaper to ship waste polythene to China and South East Asia than recycle it in the UK. This was fine until the shutters came down and these countries refused to take any more. A recent UN resolution that’s effectively classified plastic as toxic waste makes it unlikely this decision will be reversed any time soon. If anything, the problem is likely to get worse if others follow the Philippines’ example and ship plastic waste back to its country of origin.

Meanwhile, pressure is mounting. It appears there’s only one company in the EU that can recycle polythene waste and it’s found itself swamped to the point it can’t take in any more. 

Longer term the UK will need more recycling capacity and to use biodegradable materials more widely. For now, however, it seems farmers are once again dealing with the unintended consequences of ill considered action.

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