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Stockpiles of farm plastic waste need a solution, now.

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The Hon Dr Sharman Stone MP Shadow Minister for Environment, Heritage and the Arts Shadow Minister for Indigenous Affairs Federal Liberal Member for Murray

Friday, 11 July 2008

Stockpiles of farm plastic waste need a solution, now

Each year we are making even greater use of plastics in agriculture, to wrap and tie fodder, to cover vines or trees, to protect growing tomatoes and other crops.

However, much of this material is single use, and virtually none of it is bio-degradeable. About 2000 tonnes of the material is used each year. Some 10 cubic mts of plastic makes up a tonne of waste, and every 1.6kg of the agricultural plastic, for example silage wrap is the equivalent to some 400 plastic shopping bags. Clearly we have a big problem, according to Dr Sharman Stone, Federal Member for Murray, and Shadow Minister for Environment, Heritage and the Arts and Indigenous Affairs.

“Our local farmers and the Councils want to dispose of this plastic in a responsible way. Everyone knows burying or burning the material is not a great idea because of human health and environmental considerations.

“Community groups like the Katunga Recreation Reserve Committee have been doing their best to assist local farmers by stockpiling the plastic, but they are up against a brick wall when it comes to further disposal of the waste.

“Land-filling the plastic is not a solution. The material creates soft spots in the tip that can make heavy machinery operation on top unstable. As well, the waterproof plastic stops the normal circulation of water through the land fill.

“All of these agricultural plastics are derived from petroleum, and can be recycled back to plastic film. The problem is that the plastic films used in agriculture are usually heavily dirtied with soil and vegetable matter, which must be washed off before the material can be put through a recycling process.

“At one time the dirty used plastic could be exported to countries like China and Korea where it was cleaned and recycled. More recently however, these countries have understandably become concerned about importing soil and possible contamination issues, and so their quarantine regulations have stopped the business.

“European technology is now being developed to try to convert used plastic into diesel. This would be an excellent outcome, if it could be achieved in a cost effective manner. We must hope this technology is not far away from full development.

“Meanwhile, I am calling on the state government to make a grant to one of our local councils or an organisation like the Goulburn Valley Waste Management Group, which covers Campaspe, Moira, Murrindindi and the City of Greater Shepparton, so a local enterprise can develop a machine or process which washes the plastic. The plastic could then be recycled in the usual way.

“Surely we have the ingenuity to be able to work out how to cost effectively clean this plastic, with recycled water of course.

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“This waste management problem is serious, and it is not going to go away. It is estimated that agricultural plastic is going to increase in use by at least 20 per cent each year.

“Like all problems there must be a way to deliver a win-win solution”, Dr Stone said.

[11 July 2008] Media Enquiries: Robert Hardie 02 6277 4477 / 0418 432 909