Tackling the legacy of agricultural plastic
While the use of plastics in agriculture has improved food production and food security in many countries, it has left a legacy of plastic pollution on agricultural land.
A new multinational research project working with five low and middle income countries (LMICs) and funded by the UKs Natural Environment Research Council is to search for ways to resolve the plastic pollution caused by adopting plastics as cheap and readily available mulch layers, and other uses.
It will have the dual focus of addressing current problems and setting up legacies to enable future generations to engage with the problem.
The UK Reserch & Innovation Award will see three Bangor University experts, Professors Davey Jones Dave Chadwick and Peter Golyshin of the University’s School of Natural Resources working with research groups from the Universities of Bristol and Reading in the UK, and soil scientists, socio-economic researchers, advisor and farmer networks, agri-industries and regional governments in China, Egypt, India, Sri Lanka and Vietnam. The five countries selected are at differing points in tackling their acute problems with agricultural plastics.
Together, these countries use 3 million tonnes of agricultural plastic film each year covering 25 million hectares of agricultural land. They also span a wide range of climates and possess a range of governance structures.
As well as quantifying the risks posed by the plastics currently in the soil, the teams at each location will co-design practical, economic, socially acceptable and politically viable solutions specific to the needs and problems of their country in order to reduce plastic legacy.
The focus for Davey Jones, Professor of Soil Science is to investigate the impacts that conventional macro-, micro- and nano-plastics that are degrading within soils pose to the long-term health of agricultural ecosystems.
“These plastics have wrought great improvements. The use of plastic mulch films in particular, have transformed the livelihoods of millions of smallholder farmers across the world. The use of plastic for such purposes should continue, alongside the continued development of sustainable agriculture.
But the fate and disposal of plastics have never been properly addressed. We need to know what impact these widely used materials are having on the environment and on human health.”
Dave Chadwick, Professor of Sustainable Land Use Systems said:
“Plastic pollution is identified by the UN Environmental Programme as one of the top 10 global environmental problems and is hampering achieving the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.
Most of the ocean’s plastic originates from the land- and terrestrial plastic may be a larger problem than we realise.
We want to work in partnership and co-deliver viable solutions to help remediate lands contaminated with plastic. We also want to ensure that the projects have a legacy so that tools, technology and partnerships which develop persist beyond the end of the project, and can be shared with others.”
Announcing this and other research awards, Professor Sir Duncan Wingham, Executive Director of the Natural Environment Research Council, said:
“Pollution caused by plastic waste is one of the world’s biggest environmental challenges, and UKRI is at the forefront of funding research to find solutions. These awards totalling £20 million are a vital step in helping world-leading researchers develop realistic and feasible solutions to reduce plastic pollution while enabling equitable, sustainable growth.
“Our investment in international development research aims to positively impact the lives of millions of people across the world and supports global efforts to achieve the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.”
Bangor University was also recently awarded a major UK Natural Environment Research Council and National Research Foundation (NRF Singapore) research grant to examine how plastic waste impacts the marine environment around the Philippines.
These new projects are contributing to the wider portfolio of plastic related research at Bangor University, via the Plastic Research Centre of Wales, which brings together a multidisciplinary group of academics, researchers, students and partners to investigate all aspects of plastic use, plastic pollution and plastic alternatives.
Publication date: 18 November 2020