A plastic film recycling system contributes to sustainable agricultural development in Yunnan, southwest China

A worker processes film noir waste at a factory in Qujing. Photo: Xie Wenting/GT

“I have been using plastic film since I started to grow air-cured tobacco. In the past, waste plastic film was thrown into the farmland and the river, which presented a shocking scene. We all knew it was bad for the environment, but we didn’t know how to deal with it,” Dong Xuekun, a farmer and director of a tobacco farming cooperative in Qujing, provincial, told the Global Times. from Yunnan (southwest China).

Since plastic film was introduced in China and became widely used in the agricultural industry, it has not only boosted agricultural production, but also caused large-scale pollution. This is a serious type of white pollution as the pieces of film used would simply be ignored by farmers, with most being allowed to rot in farmland or thrown into rivers, harming the environment and posing risks potential for human health.

To solve the problem and create a clean and safe agricultural environment, the municipal government of Qujing launched a plastic film recycling and reuse program in 2014. Local agricultural cooperatives and a recycling company named Yunnan Qujing Plastics Group have been mobilized in the plastic film waste recycling process.

A pile of black film waste at a recycling site in Qujing, southwest China's Yunnan Province Photo: Xie Wenting/GT

A pile of black film waste at a recycling site in Qujing, southwest China’s Yunnan Province Photo: Xie Wenting/GT

At a recycling site, the Global Times reporter saw hundreds of tons of black plastic film waste placed in containers and neatly stacked under a plastic steel shed.

Dong explained that after the fall harvest, their work focuses on collecting and recycling plastic film waste. Farmers now have a strong incentive to get involved because they are ‘paid’ for recycling.

In Dong Cooperative, there are more than 800 households, who plant more than 10,000 mu (666.67 hectares) of flue cured tobacco and use nearly 100 tons of plastic wrap every year. The cooperative has signed an agreement with the local tobacco company as well as with the Qujing Plastics group. For each kilogram of waste plastic film recycled, the tobacco company will pay the farmers 2 yuan ($0.29) and the Qujing Plastics Group will pay the cooperative 1 yuan as an acquisition fee.

“Through continuous practice, we have established a zero-emission waste film processing and recycling system, set up two 10,000-ton waste film processing plants, and obtained 15 new invention patents. Since then 2014, we recovered more than 80,000 tons of waste film, realized the production and application of about 20,000 tons of recycled materials, and cleaned up about 1.5 million mu of farmland every year,” said Lu Bin, general manager of Qujing Plastics Group, told the Global Times.

A member of Dong’s cooperative told the Global Times that waste film recycling work has a great impact on the yield and quality of air-cured tobacco. “In recent years, we have continued to carry out waste film recycling work, and one mu of land can ‘return’ about 10 kilograms of waste film. Therefore, the environment of the tobacco plantation has gradually improved, the quantity and quality of tobacco leaves also improved, which greatly increased our income,” he said.

Analysts pointed out that agricultural film has been used in China for almost 50 years. As waste film is usually not recycled, it is thrown away by farmers, which pollutes water and blocks river channels, which seriously harms the sustainability of agriculture. While sustainability is a common issue across the country, the recycling and use of waste film is a different issue in different places, and it is difficult for any company or city to address.

“Qujing firmly adheres to the concept of green development. Thanks to a series of measures for recycling used films, our environment has been greatly improved. Now the river is clearer and the land is cleaner,” said Zou Yukun, deputy director of the local affairs bureau. of the Qujing Economic and Technological Development Zone.

But Zou noted that this model is not easy for other provinces to emulate. “Yunnan is a major tobacco-producing province. Tobacco is grown on more than half of the province’s land. To solve the problem of recycling waste film, Qujing Plastic Group and local tobacco companies have invested heavily in the current recycling model. model is difficult to replicate in other provinces,” Zou said.

Analysts noted that it is very important to motivate farmers in the recycling process and that there needs to be a government organization to step up efforts to subsidize farmers in the recycling process.

For the recycled waste film, at a recycling site, the Global Times reporter saw that an area the size of a football field is filled with a hill of black film waste. A forklift shuttles back and forth, feeding the waste film into a shredder. Then through the processes of rinsing, pressing, breaking, air conveying, plasticizing, water cooling granulation, dewatering, packing and other processes, the waste film becomes recycled agricultural film material.

“There is no waste that cannot be disposed of, only resources that are not well designed and used. The key lies in how we design products, how to use them and how to recycle them. Thanks to the construction of the whole recycling system, we found that the whole society urgently needs recycling of used film as well as efficient processing of used film to produce new recycled materials.We also hope that through the tireless efforts of everyone, the sustainable development of agriculture can be achieved,” said Mr. .

A film used in the agricultural industry Photo: Xie Wenting/GT

A film used in the agricultural industry Photo: Xie Wenting/GT