Plastic mulches in agriculture and horticulture - grappling with the environmental consequences

Friday 24th February

We've just completed some research into the use of plastic mulches in horticulture and agriculture... the usage of such mulches are increasing substantially, worldwide, yet we can't find much data on their environmental impacts - a problem highlighted by Blanco et al. (2018). How many food LCAs integrate plastic mulches into their carbon and other environmental impact data? Very few, sadly - this is clearly an environmental blind spot that needs to be addressed.

Plastic mulches and films started to be used commercially in agriculture from the early 1960s – today, many synthetic agricultural plastic mulches are manufactured from low-density polyethylene (LDPE).

The overall usage of agricultural plastic mulches worldwide is hard to accurately gauge, because of a dearth of available research and data – although a paper by Liu et al. (2014) details that around 20 million hectares of plastic film were used in China each year – approximately 1.25 million tons during 2011 alone.

During 1997, agricultural plastic mulches made up an estimated 25% of the 500,000 tons of plastic films used in agriculture in Western Europe according to Hussain and Hamid (2003). And usage is increasing worldwide, with this trend driven by demand in the Middle East and China Narancic and O’Connor (2019).

Waste plastic mulches provide very specific challenges, including: relatively low levels of waste per holding, the contamination of the waste, the low value of the waste, the scattered location of producers, and the seasonality of waste production. Because of this, it’s very clear that much plastic mulch is diposed of illegally… additionally, there are issues relating to the plastic residues left behind in the soil after its use.

If you would like us to research and mitigate the impacts of plastic mulch within your business – whether you’re producing crops with plastic mulches, or producing/retailing products that have utillised plastic mulches through their life cycle, we can help… get in touch with our Director, Luke Rowlands today – on +44 (0)7966 729775.


Blanco, Loisi, R. V., Sica, C., Schettini, E., & Vox, G. (2018). Agricultural plastic waste mapping using GIS. A case study in Italy. Resources, Conservation and Recycling, 137, 229–242.

Liu, He, W. Q., & Yan, C. R. (2014). “White revolution” to “white pollution”-agricultural plastic film mulch in China. Environmental Research Letters, 9(9), 91001–.

Hussain, I., Hamid, H., & Andrady, A. L. (2003). Plastics and the Environment.

Narancic, & O’Connor, K. E. (2019). Plastic waste as a global challenge: are biodegradable plastics the answer to the plastic waste problem? Microbiology (Society for General Microbiology), 165(2), 129–137.


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