Guidance on the use of agricultural plastics at the 28th Session of FAO’s Committee on Agriculture

FAO’s main technical advisory committee on agriculture, COAG 28, that took place from 18 to 22 July, has acknowledged the need for improved inter-sectoral collaboration and governance to address plastic use in agrifood systems.

The Committee recommended that FAO address existing knowledge gaps in close consultation with Members and stakeholders to develop, within its mandate, a Voluntary Code of Conduct on the sustainable use of plastics in agriculture, to be presented for consideration at the 29th Session of COAG in 2024.

Plastics in agriculture were a key topic discussed by countries at COAG and the sessions were vital in strengthening country commitment to combatting pollution caused by plastics in agriculture.

In December 2021, FAO published its first global report “Assessment of agricultural plastics and their sustainability: a call for action”. The report revealed alarming facts and figures and helped raise awareness on agricultural plastic pollution, a subject that had previously never garnered much attention from mainstream news and policies. The report estimated that globally, 12.5 million tonnes of plastic are used in agricultural production and 37.3 million tonnes in food packaging, all of which ends up discarded as waste, threatening food security, food safety and the natural resources upon which our agrifood systems rely.

Over the last 70 years, the use of plastics in agrifood systems has become pervasive. It is estimated that the land we use to grow our food is contaminated with far larger quantities of plastic pollution than previously thought, posing a threat to food security, people’s health, and the environment.

Ocean waste has been widely reported on but much of the plastic in oceans comes from land-based sources, including from agriculture. Often farmers lack the capacity for selection, application, management, and retrieval needed for adequate plastic removal from the fields. In addition they often have limited access to sound environmental end-of-life management.

Other actors in agrifood value chains, the distributors, and processors, have little guidance from governments to facilitate the sustainable management of plastics.

Results from COAG 28 will set in motion increased efforts from all stakeholders to balance the benefits and trade-offs of plastics used in agriculture, contributing to the three dimensions of sustainability; tackling the root causes of poverty and hunger, building a fairer society and leaving no one behind.

COAG decisions not only reflect the common voice of the global agriculture community on the urgent need to address negative impacts of plastics use in agriculture but are also defining priorities for FAO in supporting Members at the start of negotiations on the global treaty to end plastic pollution.

A loud call for action is in place, and outcomes from COAG 28 are a promising step.

You can watch the recording of the discussion here.