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4. Issues with the Disposal of Agrichemical Containers

The inappropriate disposal of farm chemical containers can cause an environmental hazard. Containers used for pesticides, herbicides, and cleaning products are often contaminated with residual product and are frequently buried or burned on farm properties. Plastics that are burnt at low temperatures can also release toxic fumes.

Once farmers have used agrichemical products, they are faced with the problem of how to dispose of the empty containers. To date there has been no sustainable recycling solution available to farmers. The only legitimate option available has been to dispose of containers to engineered landfills.

Research conducted at the development stage of Agrecovery suggested that farmers were prepared to travel some distance to access container collection sites to enable their agrichemical containers to be recycled. This was taken into account when designing the Agrecovery programme.

As a result of the difficulties faced in disposing of containers, the most common practice has been to burn or bury agrichemical containers on-farm. This poses an environmental risk due to the release of toxins from low temperature burning of plastics/chemicals or from chemical leaching if containers are buried.

Dumping or burning agrichemical containers is contrary to increasingly accepted standards looked for under compliance schemes such as EurepGap [EUREPGAP is the fresh produce food standard set in place by Europe's leading food retailers to give their customers more assurance of food safety. Only accredited growers can supply these retailers.] .

4.1. Environmental impacts of disposal options

A life-cycle analysis (LCA) of disposal options for agrichemical containers (and silage wrap) was conducted in 2003 [URS & NZIER (2003)Life Cycle Analysis for the Management of Waste Farm Plastics and Economic Analysis of Waste Farm Plastic Management Options; prepared for NZAET.] . The study examined the environmental impacts of different disposal scenarios: on-farm burial, on-farm burning, drop-off for recycling, drop-off for landfilling and drop-off for incineration with energy recovery.

Key findings of the study were:

  • the on-farm burial and on-farm burning of plastics result in greater effects in respect of air acidification and airborne human toxicity when compared to other scenarios;
  • landfilling of waste farm plastics, using existing transfer stations and landfills, has less effect on the environment than on-farm disposal scenarios for those indices compared;
  • the recycling of plastics results in a net avoided burden for the air acidification, human toxicity, greenhouse effect and depletion of non-renewable resources indices.

The study concluded that "a program whereby farmers drop off waste plastics at transfer stations, for recycling into products as a replacement for virgin plastic, will have the least negative effect on the environment".