Advances in the Sustainable Use of Plastics in Horticulture—Perspectives, Innovations, Opportunities, and Limitations


The use of plastics in horticulture is reviewed with respect to its sustainability based on the traditional criteria of triple Rs (reduce, reuse, and recycling) plus a re-place strategy, taking into account possible alternatives. Hail (and insect) nets made of HD-PE, with their long-term use mostly on apple and polytunnels of LD-PE for cherry and strawberry as well as solarisation mulches (reuse), were found to be relatively sustainable solutions for their needs and are currently without alternatives. In contrast, standard black mulch, with its largest share among horticultural plastics, had the widest range of sustainable alternatives, ranging from biodegradable to spray mulch; few sustainable alternatives are available for fleeces and reflective mulches. For the third sustainable option, pilot recycling schemes were examined, such as PolieCoTM (Italy), MAPLATM (Spain), and ERDETM (Germany); they collect 30–50% of the agricultural plastics used in their respective areas, with a successful retrieval growth rate of ca. 20% per year in the case of ERDETM. For the fourth new R option (replace), future sustainability perspectives for the predominant black mulch are research into and development of better, biodegradable, non-fossilbased plastics, sprayable mulch; microbes for the digestion of deployed polyolefins and, for a certain limited range (on shade tolerant crops or in high-light intensity environment), hail nets and polytunnels that are equipped/substituted by/with solar panels (“agri pv”) for the concomitant sustainable production of green renewable energy.

Sustainability, (15), 15,