Farmers also sow microplastics

Farmers also sow microplastics
Farmers also sow microplastics

Lobby sows doubt

The European Commission has wanted to restrict the use of microplastics for years; this should have happened in 2022, but was delayed. Last fall, the Commission announced an extension of REACHthe European regulation on chemicals: microplastics in artificial grass fields, cosmetics, toys and medical products have since been banned.

Microplastics are also being curbed in agricultural products, but a transition period of five years has been set for this, and for some applications even eight years. This years-long delay came after several members of the lobby club Fertilizers Europe had told the agency ECHA, which advised the European Commission on the regulations, that there were no good alternatives.

There are several natural alternatives to plastic, such as a clay-based coating for seeds

Research by Apache shows that this argument is questionable. For example, scientists published in 2022 about a coating for controlled release fertilizers clay based. This alternative “works well and is cheap and environmentally friendly,” according to the International Journal of Biological Macromolecules.

Many innovations are taking root, especially in Asia. A Chinese company has held a patent for a clay-based coating since 2005. Malaysian, Thai and Chinese scientists point to natural coatings of soy, polylactic acid, linseed and corn starch.

There are also alternatives to plastic as an anti-caking agent. Fertilizer manufacturer Yara, which has a large factory in Tertre, Hainaut, says it has completely phased out the use of plastic in fertilizer. Yara has stopped using an anti-caking agent based on polymers since 2021, according to a spokesperson. So you can do just fine without it.

There are also alternatives for the plastic protective layers around seeds. For example, the layers can be made from potato starch or from a residual flow from sugar production.

This has been in the works for years: Apache found a 1999 patent for starch-based seed coatings filed by the small company Seedbiotics. After two takeovers, it fell into the hands of BASF. According to a spokesperson, the chemical giant currently does not sell starch-based coatings, but recently did Sepiret Ed 01a microplastic-free variant made from red corn.

In the report Phasing out the use of microplastics 180 cooperating European environmental organizations describe that various natural alternatives exist. That report was presented to the European Commission and the ECHA.

The agency itself is also aware of alternatives, as is evident in its reports. In an appendix to an advisory report, ECHA employees write about a product with silica-based anti-caking agent:

“Since this is already on the market under the brand name SIPERNAT® D17some doubt is cast on industry claims that at least three years of R&D activities are needed to find alternatives.”

Difficult research

Yet the transition periods came at the insistence of the industry. After that time, microplastics will be banned in fertilizers and pesticides, “but many other sources of microplastics will not cease to exist,” says Professor De Tender of Ghent University.

Microbiologist Caroline De Tender (UGent): ‘It is important that we also investigate the soil, because that is the largest container of plastic waste’

The Dutch National Institute for Health and Environment recently complained in a report about the absence of a suitable measuring method to determine the amount of plastic in a kilo of soil.

Any type of plastic – think of round balls, deformed pieces and long threads (‘fibers‘) – needs a different method, while there are still all kinds of technical challenges. This makes research difficult to get off the ground.

“The information currently available is very limited. And studies contradict each other,” says De Tender. “But it is important that we not only investigate the maritime environment, but also the soil, because that is the largest container of plastic waste.”

The article is in Dutch

Tags: Farmers sow microplastics


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