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New biodegradable bioplastics to increase crop yields

The goal of a project funded by Valencian Climate-KIC, the European initiative against climate change, is to use new biodegradable plastics with active components to increase crop yields in agriculture and to improve its competitiveness in the market.

Researchers at the Institute of Food Engineering for Development (IUIAD) of the Polytechnic University of Valencia (UPV) are leading this project, which also involves the Department of Inorganic Chemistry of the University of Valencia, Anecoop, Nurel, and the agricultural associations AVA -Asaja and La UniĆ³.

IUIAD researcher, Chelo Gonzalez, said that the use of conventional plastic padding, obtained from petroleum, is an effective way to improve crop yields worldwide but that it wasn't very sustainable.

These plastics can reduce water evaporation, control the growth of weeds, and prevent the crops from having direct contact with the soil.

"Their withdrawal is usually expensive and increases costs of the production process so, after being used, they are usually abandoned on the floor, having a negative impact on the environment," she stated.

In addition, the researcher said, "they can't be recycled due to the high levels of pollutants that they contain. A possible solution producers use is burning them in situ, although this generates a series of harmful air pollutants such as dioxins."

Chelo Gonzalez, who is also a professor at the School of Agricultural Engineering and the Environment of the UPV, said that using padded plastics made from natural materials, which are biodegradable, would solve many of these problems.

"These bioplastics could be left on the ground without risk of contaminating the environment and would help producers avoid the additional costs of their withdrawal," she stated.

According to Gonzalez, "currently, the number of agricultural plastics that have a biodegradable natural origin is very limited and their prices are 2 to 3 times higher than those of conventional plastics."

"Therefore, there is a need to seek sustainable alternatives that are environmentally friendly and economically sound," remarked the researcher.

She also added that the incorporation of active components such as antimicrobial, antifungal components, or fertilizers, would have an added value that could offset their high price.

"These active components would be released in a controlled manner to the environment and avoid further treatments on the crops," she added.

The project's first meeting will be held on February 16, and researchers will analyze the prospects, risks, and opportunities for the use of these materials, as well as other possible uses they might have.

To this end, they will create a series of surveys about the use of biodegradable plastics, which will then be sent to manufacturers of plastics for agricultural use, farmers, and consumer associations. In addition, they will carry out economic, functional, and life cycle assessments.

"The active bioplastics could redefine agricultural practices and the food chain, offering a new model of sustainable agriculture, not only as a replacement for traditional plastics but as a new approach to treating the fields," she concluded.

Source: EFE
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