In order to feed a global population which is expected to top 9 billion people by 2050, food waste needs to be eliminated, distribution of food improved and food production increased, reports AMI Consulting. At the same time agriculture faces challenges due to changing economic and environmental trends including climate change, biofuel expansion, slowing agricultural yields, rising meat demand and ever increasing calorie intake from a growing global middle class. It is estimated that by 2050 about 70% of the global population will be urban, compared to 50% today.
Although the population increase in Europe is going to be only marginal, European agriculture will continue to play its part in global food production, while simultaneously fighting for its existence in the face of competing pressures for land use. The agricultural sector is forced to produce more food of increasing quality on less land within a shorter space of time using less resources, while generating minimum waste. Extending the growing season and increasing yields per hectare of land have been and will remain the main drivers for the use of agricultural films. In addition, plastic films protect the crops, which has direct implications on the crop's quality. Films can also improve a farm's efficiency by reducing the amount of chemicals, water and energy used. The European market for agricultural film has been experiencing steady growth over the past decade exceeding half a mln tons in 2013. Spain and Italy are the largest markets overall, accounting for almost 40% of demand primarily driven by their intensive horticultural activity where large quantities of greenhouse and mulch films are used. In contrast, Northern Europe with vast areas of grass land is a major producer of animal fodder and has significant consumption of silage films both silage sheet and stretch wrap. The chart shows that Spain and Italy each consume more than 61,000 tpa, while France, Germany and the UK each consume more than 31,000 tpa. Ireland, the Netherlands, Belgium and Poland each consume more than 16,000 tpa.
Silage film which is forecast to grow by just over 1% a year over the next five year period is going to be driven primarily by booming biomass production, demand for increasing quality of fodder and reduction of spoilage, increased number of dairy cows, increasing nutritional intake per cow, silage being increasingly fed to horses and haylage being also increasingly baled and wrapped. Consumption of conventional mulch film in tonnage terms is forecast to decline slightly over the next five years as a result of the relative maturity of the market, shrinking of the area for crop cultivation and the need for the reduction of post-use plastic waste (by downgauging or by using biodegradable films instead). Market trends for greenhouse film demand are very similar to mulch films as both types of films are increasingly used in combination. The European market is a mature one and with one season films being gradually replaced by films lasting up to 5 years, in tonnage terms the market has seen a decline and the process is expected to continue for the next five years. The market is increasingly driven by value rather than volume. In order to increase market share in an oversupplied market, film companies will strive to develop innovative customized high performance thinner multilayer films and as well as look at opportunities for further consolidation. Some of the most recent major takeovers include RKW acquiring Hyplast and Biofol Film, ITW Mima's industrial films business being acquired by the US-based Carlyle Group, Morera & Vallejo acquiring the bankrupt TPM group in Spain and Unterland being acquired by the Britton Group now rebranded as Coveris.
During their lifetime, plastic-based products such as films, bale nets, yarns, irrigation hoses and packaging act as versatile and highly valuable aides to the agricultural economy. Yet, at the end of their useful service life, they turn into awkward waste requiring disposal. Into the container and off to landfill - that is the most frequently-chosen and, at the same time, worst route. There is a lot of good will to do things better amongst those involved. But there is still a lack of sustainable and practical disposal concepts in the majority of European countries. A recently-formed working group by the European Association of Plastics Recycling and Recovery Organisations (EPRO) is working on the development of new, forward-thinking solutions to address this issue.
The total amount of plastics used in agriculture is considerable. Almost 50% is processed for use in films. Approximately 1.2 mln tons of agricultural plastics require disposal each year, yet only 22% of this amount is recycled. Over half, more than 600,000 tons, ends up in landfill. Around 26% is used for energetic recovery. There is enormous room for improvement in these figures. To date it is only a handful of European countries that have efficient systems. They are either the result of legal requirements, such as in Ireland or Iceland, or of voluntary industrial, trade and agricultural initiatives (for instance in Germany, France, Norway, Sweden and Spain). Since February 2010, RIGK has been successfully providing its nationwide service PELLE for the recycling of used agricultural films. Provided in partnership with the manufacturer RKW SE, bale nets and yarns have been added to this service. In the majority of European countries, particularly in Eastern Europe, there is still no controlled recovery system. Pan-European legislation relating to the recovery of non-packaging plastics used in agriculture does not exist.
At the start of March 2011, EPRO initiated a new, cross-border work group entitled 'Agricultural-Plastics'. It currently has 14 members from France, Norway, Sweden, Iceland, Germany, Ireland, Switzerland, Great Britain, Spain, Belgium and Romania. The majority of its members are representatives of national, established or emerging recovery schemes. The group's overriding intentions are the exchange of information on existing disposal solutions, the ecological and economical enhancement of existing recovery systems and the provision of support for new systems in countries where, to date, no activities in this regard have been undertaken. A further objective of the group is the initiation of intensive discussions with external partners from industry, trade and agriculture.