Fighting hunger and thirst

30. Mar 2021 | Food / Agriculture

Plastics improve food supply

100 years of plastics – this also includes important innovations for the agricultural sector. The accurate use of various types of plastic protects sensitive arable crops and secures the food supply for large parts of the population – while using resources in a sustainable fashion. At the same time, plastic pipes prevent water and nutrients from being wasted.

Protecting with films

Cultivating crops in greenhouses or under plastic foils allows to reduce the use of pesticides. Thus, agricultural products grow under ideal conditions, protected against extreme weather events or pest.

Covering the soil with a plastic film reduces the evaporation and helps to keep the soil moist. This mulching improves the temperature conditions for the plant roots, protects against erosion, and diminishes the growth of weed and, thus, the competition for water and nutrients.

At the end of their lifecycle, the plastics industry helps to retrieve plastics from agriculture. The collection system ERDE, for example, a unique recovery concept for harvest plastics, is expected to help collect and recycle 65 percent of all marketed silage films and stretch films in Germany by 2022.

Landwirtschaftsfolien, BASF 2019

Preventing crop losses

Indispensable is also plastics packaging: it protects food and keep it fresh for longer. And it makes sure that less food spoils. In developing countries, around 50 percent of the food perishes already before reaching the consumers, according to some estimates – i.e. after the harvest, during transportation, or while being processed. In Europe, this rate amounts to only three percent.

This is also due to plastics packaging, which is able to triple the storage capability of food thanks to their unique characteristics. For example, a British retail chain managed to reduce the spoilage rate from 16 to 4 percent with an optimised packaging for meat. This saves money, water, and carbon dioxide: the production of one kilogram of beef alone releases up to 13 kilograms of carbon dioxide, while the production of a plastic packaging for meat produces only about 200 grams of carbon dioxide.

Kunststoff Zukunft Mobilität Reisen Nachhaltig

Helper in times of need

Worldwide, more than one billion people do not have access to clean water. According to the World Health Organisation, 1.8 million people die every year from the consequences of gastro-intestinal diseases caused by contaminated water. Plastic filters in mobile water treatment plants used in arid regions contribute to safeguarding water resources in a sustainable fashion. Such lightweight, easy-to-use, and low-cost plants convert large quantities of wastewater into drinking water on the spot. A plastic case with polymer filter membranes approximately 30 centimetres long, removes viruses and bacteria without any need for electricity or chemical substances. This drastically reduces the risk of gastro-intestinal diseases.

However, plastics also help in a far more profane way: plastic pipes, for example, are excellent means for safe and clean transportation of water across the globe. They protect drinking water against contamination. And wastewater does not leak into the environment, contaminating valuable farmland – as leakages are extremely unlikely with plastic pipes.