Plastics present significant environmental problems due to their resistance to degradation.
In recent years there has been a growing use of plastics in different industrial sectors due to their properties (low density, corrosion resistance, insulating capacity, low price, etc.).
The agricultural sector is one of the sectors that frequently uses plastic materials. Plastic, in this sector, is used in all areas. Its use responds to the need to achieve increases in both the quality and quantity of fruit and vegetable production. The use of plastic in the agricultural sector also favours a reduction and efficiency in water consumption.
It is estimated that worldwide the production of plastics is about 350 tonnes/year. The problem with the use of plastic comes after its use. Plastic waste accumulates in natural environments due to its resistance to degradation and limited recovery. Estimates indicate that only 31% of plastics entering waste management systems are recycled; the remaining 69% is either incinerated or landfilled. These practices create serious environmental problems.
RECOVER, a European project within the European Commission’s BBI-JU (Bio-Based Industries Joint Undertaking) and Horizon 2020 initiative, works to solve the problems of contamination of agricultural fields with non-biodegradable agroplastics. It also seeks to provide sustainable management practices for the non-recyclable packaging fraction of municipal waste management systems.
The consortium of RECOVER partners is researching to develop the use of innovative biotechnological solutions that combine microorganisms, novel microbial enzymes, earthworms and other insects to biotransform non-recyclable plastic packaging waste streams and agricultural films.
Among the expected results of the RECOVER project is the production of new raw materials for the primary sector such as biofertilisers and also for the bio-based industry such as chitin and chitosan.
Microorganisms and their enzymes undoubtedly have a key role to play in the biorecycling of plastic waste streams.