As the active farming season is accelerating, waste management company Žalvaris urges farmers to avoid accumulating waste from farming activities to avoid paying for it dearly later. According to experts, the main reasons for the observed decrease in the delivery of agricultural waste for processing may be lacking awareness of waste management or a shortage of time. This may lead to storing massive quantities of waste, polluting the site or even producing contaminated yield.
‘Even before the pandemic, the collection of waste generated by agricultural activities was on the rise, with our data showing that we were collecting and processing almost twice as much waste from farms as we are today. However, over the last three years, we have seen a significant decline in farmers’ activity, with farm waste collection falling by 35% between 2020 and 2022. Understandably, overall restrictions have probably led to a postponement of waste delivery for the future. However, the pandemic is over, and the figures show worrying signs that farmers accumulate waste in their plots, warehouses and outbuildings due to a shortage of time or for other reasons’, says Kristina Kavaliauskienė, the Sales Director of Žalvaris.
As one of Lithuania’s largest industrial waste management companies, Žalvaris collected, processed and managed more than 54,000 tonnes of hazardous and non-hazardous waste in 2022, serving more than 4,000 business customers in Lithuania. The company also collects and manages agricultural waste from almost 500 farms in Lithuania. However, the total amount collected from farmers last year accounted for merely 1% of the total amount of waste managed.
‘It is impossible to precisely identify the quantity of waste generated per year from agricultural activities in Lithuania, and legal regulations mainly influence this. Farmers registered as natural persons are not obliged to deliver waste to waste management companies regularly, and those who do deliver waste are mostly driven by their awareness and responsibility, as they do not want waste to accumulate or they are aware of its harmfulness to the environment’, says the specialist.
One-stop shop principle
Agriculture involves using fertilisers, pesticides and other chemicals, which generate packaging, plastic containers, agro-film, and hazardous waste from repairs of agricultural machinery and equipment: parts, filters, oil, tyres, etc. ‘When accumulated or neglected, such waste pollutes the environment and, if handed over to waste management companies that are not authorised to manage such waste, can lead to administrative liability and thousands of euros in fines. In the case of organic farming, irresponsible waste management can even lead to the loss of organic farm status’, says Ms Kavaliauskienė.
According to her, waste management is a rather complex process requiring specific knowledge of waste categories and their hazardous nature. That is why Žalvaris offers farmers a comprehensive one-stop-shop service: collecting all the hazardous and non-hazardous waste and arranging its processing. Many automotive waste types are considered dangerous to the environment and human health, such as oil, batteries, packaging contaminated with chemicals, cloths, tractor tyres, old implements, etc. Non-hazardous waste includes non-contaminated packaging, coloured and black film, agro-film, jumbo bags, polypropylene mesh, etc.
‘People working in agriculture are very busy, especially when the warm season starts, so waste management is understandably not a priority. In addition, it is often assumed that some items, containers or parts will likely be handy for farming in the future, and there is plenty of space for storing them on the farm. The accumulated waste takes up increasingly more room. In the long term, due to its abundance, it can become a source of chemical contamination or fire, polluting the plot, nearby crops and even the groundwater for hundreds of years,’ says Ms Kavaliauskienė.
According to the specialist, agriculture is intricately linked to environmental protection and should be treated as a business and subject to the same rules as other businesses regarding social and responsible management of the waste generated by its activities.
Future of the circular economy
By law, all waste holders, including farmers, are responsible for managing the waste they produce, even if they hand it over to a legitimate waste management company. If it turns out that waste has been handed over to a company that is not authorised to manage it, or if a company holding a waste management permit has handled the waste not in compliance with the law, a farmer may be liable to pay for the same waste again.
For its part, Žalvaris manages all the waste it collects in cooperation with certified partners and recyclers of individual waste types. For example, Ecso, a company belonging to the GreenGroup, is one of the partners that recycles the polyethene film and some other plastic waste collected and treated by Žalvaris at its plant.
‘The agricultural sector is crucial for the Lithuanian economy, but many farmers underestimate the peculiarities of waste management in agricultural activities, while the opposite should be true: the demand for plastic recycling is high, we have the technological possibilities for recycling, and we should move much faster towards the circular economy’, says Egidijus Noreikis, the CEO of Ecso. According to him, responsible consumption, waste management and recycling are just as important today as renewable energy, environmental friendliness and people’s desire to live healthier and better lives.
All waste collected must be treated and prepared for recycling or recovery by waste management professionals. In 2022, Žalvaris collected and managed more than 54,000 tonnes of waste, 45% of which was used for recycling and production, 48% was used for electricity and heat production, and 6% was managed through other recovery methods.
Packaging is recyclable
Currently, Lithuania is among the seven EU Member States that still do not have a separate national system for the management of packaging of plant protection products. The innovative system would help manage around 300,000 kilograms of plastic waste generated using plant protection products. Proper rinsing and recycling plastic packaging would have a substantial environmental impact and contribute to Lithuania’s goal of moving towards the circular economy.
‘Although the packaging of plant protection products is considered hazardous waste in Lithuania, science and the practice of other EU Member States have long proven that once rinsed, plastic containers meet the requirements for non-hazardous waste set out in the EU Regulation and can be successfully recycled into products that do not come into contact with the human body or food’, says Zita Varanavičienė, the CEO of CropLife Lietuva.
According to her, any innovation that helps reduce Europe’s dependence on imported oil and raw materials and increases the region’s capacity to use available resources efficiently, including waste, is becoming essential and relevant in growing international tensions over raw material supply and environmental sustainability.