The amount of plastic recovered from empty crop protection product containers in 2012 would have filled 238 Olympic-size swimming pools. More than 70,000 tonnes of plastic were recovered to be recycled into useful products, such as drainage pipes, fence posts and parking cones. This amount of recycling also spared energy use amounting to 130 million liters of gasoline or 24,000 fewer cars on the road per year. Such responsible container management is part of an industry- wide stewardship initiative that is supported by CropLife International’s member companies and global network of national and regional associations.
“Good container management and recycling practices ensure product containers are non-hazardous to the environment and human health,” says Detlef Doehnert, Ph.D., chair of CropLife International’s Container Management Project Team and director of supply chain stewardship, Crop Protection – Operations & Supply Chain Management Europe, Africa, Middle East, Central Asia, BASF SE, Germany. “All industry members promote good practices. Such stewardship is critical to sustainable agriculture.”
Best practices include the crop protection industry developing suitable containers, training farmers on appropriate rinsing and disposal of containers, and creating disposal options. For example, CropLife International advocates the triple-rinse process — a tested and validated method for minimizing residual product in a container, preventing the possible contamination of soil and water. It also ensures that farmers benefit by using all of the product.
Once these properly rinsed containers are collected, the industry’s goal is to recycle them into other products. The next best option is incinerating them with environmentally sound methods, such as in cement kilns, where they are used as an energy source. If these two options are not possible, then the containers are incinerated as waste in approved facilities. The worst case scenario and last resort is going to a landfill.
Without proper disposal, empty crop protection containers pose a potential risk to farmer health and the environment. Insome communities, they may be reused to store other materials, such as water and food — a highly dangerous practice. Farmers, particularly those that have no easy alternatives, may also discard empty containers in the fields where they have been used.
To address these problems, CropLife International has helped establish 36 container management programs around the world, mainly in Europe, North and Latin America, Australia and New Zealand. In addition, 24 pilot programs have been set up in Eastern Europe, Africa and Asia. The industry aims to maximize the collection, recycling and proper disposal of crop protection product containers worldwide by the year 2020.
A total of nearly 130 million kilograms of crop protection product containers have been recycled since the CropLife International container management initiative began about a decade ago.
“Recycling used crop protection containers goes a long way in environmental benefits,” notes Doehnert. “It’s easy to demonstrate the value of container management programs.” For instance, about 30,000 to 70,000 tonnes of empty crop protection product containers were collected each year between 2005 and 2012, accounting for 15 to 32 percent of the total amount of containers shipped to market globally, with collection rates increasing every year. During these seven years, nearly 400,000 tonnes of containers were recovered. About 50 percent of them were in Brazil, which has the largest container management program in the world. In 2012, over 37,000 tonnes of plastic were collected there alone, representing almost 95 percent of the containers entering the Brazilian market.
Increased efficiencies in programs due to better collection and greater added-value from recycling options resulted in almost a 50 percent reduction in the costs (USD/kg) of running them between 2005 and 2012. Latin America, particularly Brazil, has led these efforts. Such mature programs are looking to further cost efficiencies by collecting other agricultural plastics such as bale wrap and sheeting for covering row crops.
Case in Point: Malaysia Container Management
Partnerships with local authorities, governments and farmer groups are essential to develop or enhance container management and recycling programs. For example, in Malaysia, about 500,000 kilograms of empty containers made with HDPE plastic have been recycled since 2003 with collaboration from government agencies, the Malaysian CropLife & Public Health Association (MCPA) and some of its members. Research has shown that every tonne of HDPE plastic recycled into new products results in energy savings of 51.4 million British thermal units or the equivalent of 1,700 liters of gasoline.
The Malaysian container management program started off as a pilot project with the Pesticides Board of the Malaysian Department of Agriculture in April 2003 in the Cameron Highlands. MCPA member companies initially provided coupons to encourage farmers to triple rinse and return empty crop protection containers to their dealers for recycling. Upon return, they received redemption coupons to offset the price of their next products purchased. The Malaysian Department of Environment exempted the triple-rinsed containers from classification as “scheduled waste,” which was key to the project’s success. This exemption was renewed in March 2013.
In the first year of the project (2003-04), about 900 kilograms of HDPE crop protection product containers were collected — enough to demonstrate the project’s value. So in 2006, the Malaysian government expanded the pilot project into a national recycling program. This allowed for the participation of commercial farm plantations, which are major users of crop protection products. MCPA members were instrumental in recruiting plantations and setting up recycling stations for them.
A critical element to the success of the national recycling program has been the involvement of contractors, who drive many kilometers to pick up empty plastic containers from remote rural areas at their own cost. Their trucks deliver products to plantations and then the empty trucks pick up triple-rinsed containers. These reverse logistics facilitate good working relationships with the plantations as well as foster goodwill with the Malaysian government, which organizes recycling in farming villages.
By 2012, a total of 175,000 kilograms of used crop protection containers were recycled, according to the Malaysian Department of Agriculture. This saved about $800,000 USD in incineration fees. Slowly and steadily, more used product containers are being recycled, benefiting the environment and protecting human health.
Meeting 2020 Goals
Working towards the 2020 goal of maximizing global collection and recycling of these containers, the industry will focus on establishing programs in Africa, Eastern Europe and Asia (central, south and southeast).
The crop protection industry is also committed to creating innovative packaging and container design to improve their use and disposal and recycling methods as well. This includes researching and developing new recycling options, technologies and end-use products, such as new containers, electrical conduits and fence posts.
New formulation and active ingredients as well as farm sizes will likely influence packaging designs. Highly active ingredients, for example, which require lower application rates, could lead to smaller packages along with the smaller farm sizes of Asia and Africa. In contrast, larger farms in Europe, North America and parts of Latin America and Eastern Europe are leading to more reusable bulk containers. New formulations could reduce product adhesions to container walls, thereby making them easier to rinse. The future may also contain new materials for packaging, improved application systems, and machinery for rinsing containers and puncturing them to prevent reuse.
“Responsible container management is part of industry-wide, global stewardship that is making agriculture more sustainable, communities safer, environments cleaner and new useful products available,” concludes Doehnert.