Plastic innovations - Junior agricultural scientists researching plants and diseases in a greenhouse with parsley Like the computer, plastic, an invention of the 20th century, has changed our lives forever. The plastics industry has helped improve healthcare, fuel efficiency, technology and many other industries we have covered here. But what about agriculture?

Plastic Innovations

Today, modern agriculture relies heavily on the use of plastic materials and products in its various forms to optimize the growth and benefits of food production. This practice is now coined as plasticulture and ranges from the use of plastic beehives to plastic water reservoir systems for storing water used in irrigation. Even a task as simple as mulching, or planting fields with seeds, now requires the use of plastic. And of course, the purpose of all of these plastic applications or products is to help secure food more efficiently for the growing world population.

Plastics in Agriculture

Certainly, plastics have made the implementation of agricultural projects much easier. The supplying of certain innovative plastic products make agricultural production faster and more efficient, even possible in areas that were once arid and dry. Some of these products include:

The Rotomolded Beehive

The rotomolded beehive with its clear plastic dome for viewing, plastic collection trays and temperate climate is a valuable innovation as it makes beekeeping possible from any location, even an urban yard. This contribution made available through plastic construction lowers beekeeping costs and make it easier for agricultural experts to grow food.

Injection Molded Spray Nozzles

Plastic innovations have also helped increase crop yields as they improve irrigation processes. New injection molded spray nozzles offer more efficient water usage and accuracy of spray.

Plastic Reservoir Systems

Natural water reservoirs suffer from current climatic changes, and the demand for water is likely to increase over the next decades. As a result, collecting and storing water will become critical in the future, especially water needed for agricultural use. This is where plastic reservoirs with collection features, plastic covers that reduce evaporation and irrigation pipes come into play. These plastic water reservoir systems help conserve and distribute water safely to areas that do not otherwise support agricultural projects.

Plasticulture Films

These include soil fumigation film, drip tubing, nursery pots, silage bags and plant or soil coverings. These covering range from plastic mulch films, row coverings ,high/low tunnels, to plastic greenhouses.  Of these products, the most used is the polyethylene plastic film which is used to cover soil and plants. The purpose of these films is to prevent the growth of weeds, to increase soil temperature and help the soil remain moist. Today, the majority of growers use it because of its affordability and flexibility.  See Wikipedia’s site about plasticulture.

The Downside

Despite their benefits, many of these innovative products are manufactured of non biodegradable polyethylene and, therefore, accumulate more plastic waste in soil, a consequence we now want to avoid to prevent any negative ecological impact on the earth. So the solution has been  to go back to the drawing board and find plastic products that can be just as effective in agricultural applications without having this negative effect on the soil or other aspects of the environment. .

Future Changes Coming to Plastics Used in Agriculture

Today, plastics manufacturers search for new plastic manufacturing methods that do not have a negative impact on the environment, and the search has lead to significant results. A recent study published in Science Advances now demonstrates that adding  polyesters such as polybutylene adipate terephthalate (PBAT) and creating thin plastic films, may be the solution to the side effects of plastic accumulation in the environment. PBAT plastic biodegrades within about six weeks.

The Future is Now

These innovative, high-tech plastic blend films may soon replace older polymer based films as they are biodegradable because of the new chemical components used to manufacture them.

Why The Change?

While Polyethylene has proven to be very beneficial in agricultural uses, it does not degrade well and leaves plastic residue in the earth, thereby causing a pollutant. On the other hand, the new plastic composite PBAT has better biodegradability as its ester bonds can be broken down by enzymes produced by soil bacteria.

Growth in The Industry Is The Answer

The plastics industry, like all sectors grows and changes as we acquire new information or have different needs. Today, we find a need to make plastic more biodegradable. Even so, this article explains how plastic has had a very positive impact on agriculture. However, there is much that we need to do, and so the research must continue. We must grow and create new plastic products that do not have a negative impact on the environment and which are biodegradable.