Rome: A new report by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations (UN) suggests that the land we use to grow our food is contaminated with far larger quantities of plastic pollution, posing an even greater threat to food security, people’s health, and the environment.
The report - "Assessment of agricultural plastics and their sustainability: a call for action" - is the first global report of its kind by FAO and contains some startling numbers.
"This report serves as a loud call to coordinated and decisive action to facilitate good management practices and curb the disastrous use of plastics across the agricultural sectors," FAO Deputy Director-General Maria Helena Semedo said in the report’s forward.
According to data collated by the agency’s experts, agricultural value chains each year use 12.5 million tonnes of plastic products.
A further 37.3 million tonnes are used in food packaging.
The crop production and livestock sectors were found to be the largest users, accounting for 10.2 million tonnes per year collectively, followed by fisheries and aquaculture with 2.1 million tonnes, and forestry with 0.2 million tonnes.
Asia was estimated to be the largest user of plastics in agricultural production, accounting for almost half of global usage.
In the absence of viable alternatives, demand for plastic in agriculture is only set to increase.
According to industry experts, for instance, global demand for greenhouse, mulching and silage films will increase by 50 percent, from 6.1 million tonnes in 2018 to 9.5 million tonnes in 2030.
Such trends make it essential to balance the costs and benefits of plastic. Of increasing concern are microplastics, which have the potential of adversely affecting human health.