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Student research to help reduce plastics in UK agriculture

Posted 18 February

"As use of these plastics is increasing, the sustainable management of their waste has become vital to avoid negative environmental impacts."

Young man with dark hair and glasses stands in front of a rural hillside with a small waterfall behind

Gareth Williams

A Harper Adams University student is hoping his research will help reduce plastic use in agriculture and increase recycling rates.

Gareth Williams is in his final year of a BSc (Hons) Rural Property Management degree at the University and is undertaking a research project entitled ‘Plastic Use in Agriculture: A study of current waste management practices and how recycling rates can be increased’.

The 24-year-old said: “This study evaluates the current disposal practices of waste plastic used in agricultural and explores how recycling of waste farm plastic can be made a more viable option for farmers.

“I was on placement at the Environment Agency, the Government agency that oversees waste management in the UK. Although most of my work was under their flood defence remit, I also became interested in the way our waste is managed.

“Many tons of plastic waste are generated by UK agriculture each year in the form of mulches, fertiliser containers, feed bags, and silage wraps, to name a few. As use of these plastics is increasing, the sustainable management of their waste has become vital to avoid negative environmental impacts.

“However, as business owners, farmers have to make tough decisions based on cost and recycling is often not the most cost-effective method of disposal.

“This study seeks to determine what steps could be taken to make recycling a more viable option for farmers and subsequently boost sustainability in the agricultural sector.”

Gareth is analysing secondary data from the DEFRA farm survey, undertaking a survey of UK farmers, and interviewing those in the waste management and farm plastic recycling sectors.

He is keen for farmers across the UK to take his survey to assist with his research. The survey is now live.

Gareth, who is from a village near Tenby in Pembrokeshire, chose to study at Harper Adams as the University “seemed to genuinely desire me, as an individual, to study there”.

“I was living in the USA at the time and they kept in regular touch with me and made any necessary arrangements,” he added.

“Because I was in the US, I chose the University without even attending a campus open day and purely on the strength of their communication - the first time I set foot on campus was the first day of term.

“In short, there was an enthusiasm and human touch from Harper that I felt was lacking in my dealings with other universities.

“I chose my degree because I was interested in agriculture, property, and the law and this course seemed to combine all three disciplines through an interesting and varied curriculum that has set me up for a similarly varied and stimulating career as a chartered surveyor.”

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