Plastic is used widely throughout the agricultural industry. This material helps producers carry out essential functions through its use in irrigation tubes, plastic mulch, tents, tarps, crop coverings and more. The problem is that many of these materials are made from plastics, some potentially toxic ones, that can break down into tiny particles that are negatively impacting our food supply and environment. Also known as microplastics, these small materials are accumulating in the soil at an “alarming rate,” according to a 2022 UN report.1 Researchers are finding that these tiny plastics are causing concerning effects on soil microbiomes, crop growth, livestock reproductive health, and human health.2
Microplastics are destructive to agriculture and livestock production in various ways. In soil, they can decrease the diversity of microbiota and change soil structure, density, and water absorption. In crops, accumulation of these materials has also been shown to restrict root growth, inhibit nutrient absorption, and decrease yield.3 Microplastics have made it to every corner of the food chain; they have also been found to cause inflammation and impact both immune function and reproduction of livestock.4
It’s time to implement better, healthier plastics as an alternative to toxic plastics.
Farmers commonly turn to plastic because of its perceived durability, and when made well, this material has the capacity to hold up. However, many operators turn to the cheapest option, which happens to be the most destructive. Take for example, barn curtains, these swaths of plastic fabric are often made from polyethylene, a plastic that is more prone to break down easily while in use. Furthermore, polyethylene plastic fabrics can fray and degrade over time resulting in tiny shreds of plastic throughout the environment resulting in microplastic pollution. This material is carbon-intensive because it needs to be replaced often, and research suggests that it can leach toxic gases into the air, land and sea throughout its lifecycle.5 Because barn curtains serve an important function in livestock operations — they protect livestock from the elements, increase air circulation, control temperature, and manage light for better production — it makes sense for producers to invest in stronger, more durable options that are also more eco-friendly and won’t contribute to microplastic pollution.
Renegade Plastics is providing its sustainable, more sustainable fabrics to Herculite for a new line of green, sustainable barn curtains. These curtains are composed of a medium-duty polypropylene-based coated fabric that is free from phthalates, dioxins, PFAS, and heavy metals like lead. This evolutionary material also offers maximum UV stability, and based on evidence from lab tests and anecdotes from field pilots, lets in less thermal infrared radiation than polyethylene-based products while also proving to be a better insulator.
These performance enhancements allow Herculite barn curtains made with Renegade to hold up to a range of weather conditions.
The sustainability of these curtains doesn’t stop with better materials, Renegade Plastics works with customers to find recycling services for all of their fabrics. Recycling any type of plastic at the end of use helps avoid further microplastic pollution. When plastic materials are sent to the landfill, they can take up to 1,000 years to decompose, emitting microplastics and toxins the entire time.6 To give you an idea of how gigantic this problem has become, the EPA estimates that 27 million tons of plastic ended up U.S. landfills in 2018.7 Another study found that approximately 90% of all polyethylene ends up in the landfill.8 In the agricultural industry alone, the demand for plastic is anticipated to grow by 50% by 2030.9 If plastic production continues as is, the implications of this increase could be disastrous. Thankfully, Renegade Plastics has the technology to address microplastic waste in the agricultural industry and beyond. Recyclable, circular plastic solutions are the path forward.
4 Urli, S., Corte Pause, F., Crociati, M., Baufeld, A., Monaci, M., & Stradaioli, G. (2023). Impact of Microplastics and Nanoplastics on Livestock Health: An Emerging Risk for Reproductive Efficiency. Animals : an open access journal from MDPI, 13(7), 1132.