ARCHIVE: Waste Management Advisor

Plastics (general)


Includes any of the following (high density, low density of linear low density) provided they are in a clean, uncontaminated state: bags, wraps, net wraps, films, plastic drums, bottles, silage bags and sheets.

Environmental Risks

The UK consumes around 3.5 million tonnes of plastics each year much of which is plastic packaging. Plastics are lightweight and so it can be difficult to imagine what 1 tonne of plastics looks like. As a guide 1 tonne of plastic is equivalent to around 20,000 2litre bottles or 120,000 carrier bags. England and Wales uses 7 billion plastic carrier bags each year.  An estimated 32,000 tonnes per year packaging waste is generated by the agricultural industry around 24,000 tonnes of which is plastic. Consumption of plastics is currently growing at around 4% annually.

Plastics may cause dark smoke and poisonous by-products if they are burnt. Burning may also cause public nuisance.  The toxic gases released if plastic is burnt may cause breathing problems.

The majority of plastics are not biodegradable, they remain intact for a very long time although there life span as a useful product is often less than a year. As a waste, plastic is also a considerable burden on the environment. Considerable quantities of raw materials and energy are required in its manufacture. Inefficient use of plastics, therefore, represents an inefficient use of the earths valuable natural resources.

See Also

Locate recycling facilities:

There are reported incidents of wildlife being suffocated whilst exploring plastic.

Waste producers have a responsibility under the Producer Responsibility Obligations (Packaging Waste) Regulations 1997 to recover and recycle a proportion of their packaging waste. From 1998 onwards anyone who handles or turns over more than 50 tonnes of packaging material in a year must recover and/or recycle a proportion of that material in the following year.


  • If possible avoid the use of plastics which are only used once before disposal. Consider products with specialist reusable, recyclable or returnable packaging systems. Choose goods without excessive packaging.
  • Careful use and handling will help to extend the life expectancy of plastics.
  • Appropriate reuse for other containment purposes (e.g. rubble collection) should be considered.


Recover and re-use plastic products as many times as possible. If they are treated with care their lifespan will be greatly increased - reducing replacement and disposal costs.  Try to find alternative uses for the material if the original use is now unsuitable. For example clean plastic drums may be used as rainwater butts and a local market may be identifiable.

Specialist recycling companies exist (and are becoming more common) who will accept and pay for plastics. These companies are especially interested in silage bags and sheets, polythene inners from fertiliser bags, pallet covers and covers from greenhouses. Some waste disposal companies also operate recycling schemes.

The option of recycling will be dependant upon the plastics degree of contamination and the quantities of the different polymers in the waste.

Some local authorities operate local recycling schemes.

An early attempt at recycling agriculturally generated plastic sheeting failed due to lack of funding as it was found that recovery was uneconomical. Similarly, the Farm Film Producers Group who specialised in recycling silage wrap collapsed in 1998. The Nationwide Farm Film Collectors Group are seeking to persuade Government to introduce a compulsory levy  on wrapped bales to subsidise recycling.

Farmers in the Lake District have set up a co-operative to recycle silage wrap. Central collection points have been set up to collect the waste and farmers pay £10 to use the service.

Glenpac Ltd. recycle plastic containers to clean dry granulations for recycling. Areas covered: Northumberland, Tyne and Wear, Durham. Cleveland, and North Yorkshire. Telephone: 0113 2441983.

Other Schemes include:

  • Cumbria Farm Plastics Tel: 01900 824000
  • Gloucestershire Farm Plastics Recycling Scheme Tel: 01452 627487
  • Lancashire Farm Plastics Recycling Scheme Tel: 01995 61641
  • Second Life Plastic Wales Tel: 01639 830617
  • Esk Valley Farm Plastics Recycling (Whitby/Castleton areas) Tel: 01947 895228 (Due to begin late 2004)

Safe Disposal

Other Information

The Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) claims it will prosecute and fine any one caught illegally disposing of waste silage film in the hope that it will encourage recycling.

The Environment Agency is supporting a plan to collect plastic film produced on Welsh farms. The plan is to persuade farmers to pay £27.50 annually for the collection service. Additional funding is being by the European Union. More information is given under Recycling.

Plastics have a similar energy content to coal and oil. Energy is recovered from some plastics in waste at energy-from-waste incinerators and more is likely in the future. Although incinerated plastic could produce toxic emissions, the Environment Agency and SEPA closely regulates, controls and monitors such releases.

Bioplastics made using plants, offer the possibility of 'growing' plastics and so avoiding the use of oil and other non-renewable energy sources. However, more research is needed before this option is adopted as some bioplastics could use more fossil fuels in their production than conventional plastics and so remove many of the advantages.

ADLib logo Content provided by the Agricultural Document Library
© University of Hertfordshire, 2011