Background

In BIOMULCH project, three SMEs from three different countries: Spain, Germany and The Netherlands; together with two RTO performers from Spain will integrate their knowledge and experiences to achieve the desired results.

MORERA (Spain) is an important manufacturer of plastic films for agriculture in the Mediterranean area, supplying in Europe and South America above 17,000 tons film/year; FKUR (Germany) as a leading producer of customized bioplastics, they offer a broad range of biobased and compostable compounds; THATCHTEC (The Netherlands) is a company focused on the development and commercialisation of environmentally-friendly methods based on microorganisms in order to control undesired biological communities; CETEC (Spain) is a R&D Centre specialized in plastics which is involved in Spanish Technological Platform for Sustainable Agriculture; ADESVA is a R&D Centre specialized in Agriculture that brings together the most representative companies in the agro-industrial and auxiliary services for new agriculture in the South of Spain.

Both RTO will contribute in the validation and the dissemination of the new technology among the final end users.

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PROBLEM TO OVERCOME AND BUSINESS OPPORTUNITY

Currently, a growing worldwide demand for agricultural products exists due to the rapid world population increase, which it is expected to reach 9 mil millions by 2050 (United Nations estimations ). The amount of arable land needed to feed them, however, will not expand at the same rate, indeed and it could even decrease.

Producing more food on less land, using less water, energy, chemicals while adapting to climatic changes is an important need.

Therefore, it is necessary to increase crop yields while ensuring soil protection and to increase food production. Mulching is one way of alleviating this situation.

This is an essential technique to satisfy the population demand, in constant growth. It consists of covering the soil surface in order to modify climate conditions and protecting and favouring the crops. It allows to increase the production in terms of quantity and quality while reducing the need for water, pesticides, fertilisers and energy.

Currently, mulching is the most extended technique in plasticulture regarding covered agronomic surface.Conventional mulch is made of polyethylene plastic. Mulch films are laid on an enormous area of land worldwide, about 4million hectares. Without these plastics in agriculture, 60% of the fruit, vegetables and the dairy production would beendangered.

The main limitation in the use of plastic materials for mulching is that plastic has to be removed after theharvest; it is messy, time-consuming and expensive, €1,400/ha; in addition, mechanical removal only allowscollecting 75-85% of plastic, the rest remains at soil. Almost all of this plastic waste persists in the environment for verylong periods of time usually at least one hundred years; they contaminate the soils and pollute the food chain. Another important problem is its difficulty to be recycled in a proper manner, inaccordance with the environment requirements (Directive 2008/98/EC) due to its high contamination by ground, stones, organic waste and pesticides(contaminants can be up to 50% by weight).

This fact results in a bigincrease of the costs related to the use of this technique in addition to thegeneration of the waste that is hard to be recycled. EU-28 generates 1.3millions of tons of the agricultural plastics waste. Landfilling is the first treatment option in many EU countries(as is shown in the map). It has been proved that harmful compounds arereleased from landfilling as well as uncontrolled burning plastics by growers (because of the high transportation costand landfill tipping fees, farmers often consider on-site burning to be economically more favorable although it is a forbidden practice). These substances are accumulated in soil as they move to the food chain and are air pollutants (it isestimated that 12% of total annual dioxin/furan emissions in the EU are produced by agricultural plasticincineration). €38billion is spent in Europe for the degradation of soil, from which 35% is coming from uncontrolled burns and landfill of agricultural waste.

Source: Plastics Europe. The facts 2014/2015

Therefore, plastic mulches cause serious problems of environmental and economic concerns. Convenient and environmental-friendly solutions are required.