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Farmers may soon be taking a closer look at how their crop protection and animal protection chemicals are packaged.

Legislation expected to change the way waste is classified down on the farm could push a move in the demand for returnable systems and even water soluble packaging solutions as farmers are faced with the possibility of paying for their waste containers to be disposed of away from the farm.

“The implementation of the EC Framework directive will extend existing waste management controls to agricultural waste. To achieve sustainable waste management, significant changes will need to take place in the management of a range of non-natural waste streams.”

This is the prediction in “Towards sustainable agricultural waste management,” a report published last year by the Environment Agency and funded by Biffaward under the Landfill Tax Credit Scheme with a contribution from the Environment Agency Waste Regulation and Management Research Programme.

“I believe DEFRA has a draft of a UK Instrument which will be issued as a consultation document before the end of this year,” Crop Protection Association technical manager Ross Dyer told Packaging Today International.

“I understand that the government is trying to take a comprehensive view of all waste legislation matters that could affect the situation, such as changes to landfill, before issuing the consultation paper. They are to be congratulated for that.”

Following consultation, a statutory instrument is likely to be issued in 2003 with a period for compliance that will eventually bring farm waste under the same controls as industrial waste.

Just what will this mean to the farmer? Recent statistics indicate that the UK’s 240 000 agricultural holdings produce around 0.5M tonnes of non-natural waste each year. This does include machinery and building waste as well as packaging and films.

The executive summary of the Environment Agency report says that current practices for managing these wastes include on-farm burning, burial and stock piling and inclusion in the household waste. There are limited off farm recovery systems in Wales and Scotland. One such system is silage film waste recovery.

“The weight of pesticide packaging placed on the UK marketplace is about 4600 tonnes, of which 2000 tonnes is paper and 2600 is plastics,” says Ross Dyer. This is about 5% of the total packaging waste on farms and, therefore, is a small part of the whole problem.

Drivers for change include manufacturers of products who are facing growing producer responsibility obligations but the proposed extension of controls to agricultural waste will but the most immediate driver for change in practices.

“At the moment the farmer can burn or bury his packaging on the farm,” explained Ross Dyer. “He won’t have that luxury in the future. He will have to arrange for disposal elsewhere.

“Personally, I think legislation will place more of an emphasis on the packaging and packaging waste. The farmers will become more aware of what they are buying. The choice of packaging will then take on more of a higher profile.

“Key to ensuring safe disposal and keeping the costs down is the need for farmers to clean their waste. In the case of pesticide packs this means rinsing when empty. I am confident that the government accepts that rinsed, clean packs can be treated as non-hazardous waste. This is essential for safety and low cost disposal under any new regulations.”

“There are really three issues when it comes to the packaging of crop protection chemicals,” says Tony Hancock, whose consultancy TH Inc has been advising Rapid Refill in the development of a new refillable crop protection chemical packaging system.

“Pesticides should not get into the water system; operators should not be contaminated during transfer and there must be safe disposal of containers.”

Developed by Europlaz in partner-ship with Link Research and Develop-ment and crop protection manufacturer Rapid Refill, the returnable and re-usable system is claimed not only to be safe but also cost-effective.

“This innovative packaging system eliminates the need for burning and burying on farms, providing farmers with a sustainable disposal solution and manufacturers with a cost effective reusable packaging system.

“Legislation to regulate the disposal of chemical packaging is anticipated but we already have a generic system which could easily be adopted by the industry and is the preferred option for eight out of 10 farmers thanks to its ease of operation and low cost installation.

“What the farmer wants is a generic system, one suitable for all manufacturers.” Rapid Refill is claimed to do this by eliminating previous problems of multiple systems specific to individual product ranges. It is designed to meet current issues relating to operator protection, environmental protection and container disposal.

The system’s closed dispensing system is claimed to reduce substantial contamination caused by spills and lowers air to air vapour release by over 95%. The reusable concept of Rapid Refill also ensures that contamination does not occur from the residue left in ‘used’ one-trip containers, seals and closures prior to disposal, adds the company.

“It’s the closed dispensing that is really important,” says Tony Hancock. “It actually came from a development designed to refuel motor bikes during racing!” The dispenser works on a valve system from Europlaz. The HDPE bottle is supplied by Nampac and may be co-extruded or fluorinated for the barrier.

“The packs go back to the packer filler where they are used to handling these products,” emphasises Tony Hancock. The returnable refillable system solves container-rinsing problems and replaces the existing practice of disposing of ’empty’ one-trip containers by burying or burning on farm.

Each container has a five-year life span under the Dangerous Goods legislation, reducing the amount of packaging waste in compliance with the EC Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive and is returned to a single point for controlled disposal, explains the company. And, as far as operator safety is concerned, the system is available in 5- and 10-litre ‘easy-to-handle’ packs, ensuring that the maximum weight of any pack is in keeping with the manual handling of loads recommendations.

The closed dispensing system substantially reduces the risk of operators being contaminated with the product. It eliminates the risk of glugging and splashing experienced with conventional containers.” It is UN certified.

“Yes, there are other reusable systems on the market, but the difference here is that there is no cost to the farmer,” says Tony Hancock. “It also has applications in many other industries. For example, it is on test in the water treatment chemicals market,” he revealed.

Currently, packaging of crop protection powder chemicals tends to be paper or plastics bags and plastics bags in cartons ranging from units of 100g to 1 and 2kg. Co-extruded or fluorinated HDPE 1- to 5-litre contain-ers are used for packaging the liquid products. There are some plastics and metal drums for larger amounts as well as some returnables and water-soluble film bags.

“Crop protection people have been involved in returnable, reuse containers for the last 10-20 years,” maintains Ross Dyer.

“My impression is that in all this time they have not gained a significant foothold in the market and that this, in itself, tells a story. It would appear that this is due to reasons such as limited choice of product, expense and associated technical problems.

Figures produced by the Health and Safety Executive don’t substantiate the suggestion that harm is being done to farmers by agricultural chemicals. There has been a lot of unsubstantiated scaremongering.

The current one trip pack stands comparison with any one trip container in other industries,” he stressed.

“The crop protection industry has done a lot to get the pack designs right – the weight, the size of the neck, the handles, non-glug developments, and easy rinsing of containers for example.

“To improve sprayer design, engineers have done a considerable amount of work. And powder products have been converted into granules to prevent blowing in the air. Some have even been put into water soluble film.”

Aventis CropScience (now Bayer CropScience) initially developed one closed transfer system for granular products – the Ultima – in 1996 under the Surefill brand name.

It was designed to improve the way in which granular agrochemicals were transported and handled in the field. At the time, a few liquid products were available in large returnable containers, but not granular products.

“Traditionally granular agrochem-icals are supplied in cardboard boxes, often with a paper/foil inner liner or in paper sacks,” says Pat Bailey, group manager of the company’s Inter-national Application Technology Group.

“These are difficult to open, can expose the operator to dust when pouring the contents into an applicator hopper, can easily cause spillage, are difficult to empty completely and, above all, need to be buried or burned after use. Disposal of millions of items of contaminated paper based packaging worldwide is a major environmental problem.”

After several years of field experience, the Ultima system was re-designed and re-launched last year to meet additional operating needs and to give an improved performance over existing hardware. The closed transfer system is now widely used in regions such as Central and South America, Mexico, Australia, the UK, France, Holland, Belgium and Denmark.

Interestingly, the company has also licensed out the system to other agrochemical companies so that they may take advantage of its features for use with their own products.

Chemical transfer is achieved by plugging the container valve into a receiver fitted to the applicator hopper, and rotating the container 45° to open the integral valve. When completely emptied there is very little residue left in the container.

The flow of material can be stopped and started as required, say where the receiving hopper is smaller than the Ultima container, and needs several fills.

Packs are returned to the packer filler after use, refilled and reused. Filling does not require any special packaging equipment and Ultima is certified for the carriage of dangerous goods to packaging group 1 standard.

Main features are the durable 30-litre container, fitted anti-tamper security seals, ability for fast filling through a 100mm opening, completely closed transfer from container to applicator, no dust emissions or chemical spillage and complete emptying of the container reports the company.

Handling is made easier by using the stacking ring. Rapid emptying is possible claims Bayer CropScience – 20kg can be achieved in about 15 seconds, depending on product.

In addition, a simple palletisation system makes for easy handling and return of empty containers. The system is designed to be suitable for use with both manual and mechanical applicators.

  “Ultima also has potential for use in other industries where granular products, dusts, dyes or powders would benefit from the ability to be handled and dispensed without spillage, dust emissions or operator exposure and, of course, with no packaging disposal problems,” says Pat Bailey.

Technical director of Aquasol David Edwards is clearly disappointed in the rate of take up of water-soluble packs within the chemicals business. Set up in 1993 as a result of a management buyout from the Rhone-Poulenc Group, the company has “extensive expertise in pesticides technology”. The pack reverted to conventional packaging after the threat from regulatory authorities on herbicides had gone away.

The company has since invested heavily in research and development programmes targeted at improving the products and processes connected with this niche sector. A number of patents is held by Aquasol for its inventions, complementing those it holds under licence from Rhone-Poulenc.

“We thought we would take the pesticide world by storm but, in the time we have been operating, we have only been asked to do a small amount of development and it hasn’t really come to anything,” states David Edwards. Aquasol was forced to turn its attention to what is now recognised as a sea change in washing detergent packaging.

“To put it in perspective, just one year after coming to market, the detergent industry is using more water soluble film than the entire pesticide industry. Such is the demand that the Japanese, the USA and UK manufacturers are upping production of PVOH material,” he announced.

“There are, of course, several examples of pesticides in water solubles – Bayer’s Bayleton continues to use water soluble film after about 15 years in this style of pack for instance but “the growth of the material in this industry is small,” he advised.

However, one recent success story for water solubles in the farm environment has been for sheep dip. Without the closed transfer system Coopers Ectoforce Sheep Dip from Schering-Plough Animal Health would not have been approved for use in the UK and Ireland.

In December 1999, the British Government advised companies that organophosphate sheep dips must be withdrawn from the market and a product recall from distributors and farms be implemented because of the perceived danger to humans from the handling of the concentrated product.

This action was taken in response to the advice ministers had received from the Veterinary Products Committee, Advisory Committee on Pesticides and Committee on Safety of Medicines on the regulatory implications of the report on organophosphates by the Committee on Toxicity.

Following the announcement, the British Government explained that, if containers were developed that would ‘minimise operator exposure’ to the product then they would be allowed back onto the market.

Given the importance of organophosphate sheep dips to the farming sector, work began immediately within Schering-Plough Animal Health to establish a solution that would eliminate operator exposure to the concentrate.

The key issue centred on the need to develop a closed transfer system where there is no contact between the operator and the organophosphate dip concentrate during dip charging and replenishment.

It was felt that a form of packaging that would dissolve was needed, where the operator could simply add the packaged product to the dip, thus removing the need to come into contact with the concentrate.

Schering-Plough Animal Health turned to Aquasol. “Working in close partnership we developed the pack in record time and had them back on the market six months ago,” boasts David Edwards. “It is so well liked by the farmers that it has increased its market share.”

Not only did the delivery system developed meet all the requirements set out by the British Government, but it also offered a number of further advantages to the operator such as ease of use and convenience.

Iris, based in Salindes, South of France, was chosen to manufacture the package. “The number of companies permitted to handle pesticidal compositions is limited because of the regulations and special needs and emergency procedures,” explains David Edwards.

“Iris set up with the same expectation as Aquasol and operates a special contract filling plant.”

The solution, developed jointly for Coopers Ectoforce, is a water-soluble sachet packed inside an outer translucent bag that can be handled perfectly safely by dip operators wearing the statutory protective clothing.

The operator simply selects the correct number of sachets required for the dipping, opens the outer bag of each using a tear strip and then drops the inner water-soluble 100ml sachet into the dip bath containing a known amount of water. The water-soluble sachet then dissolves, releasing the dip concentrate.

“It really is as simple as rip, tip and dip with no need to measure the active ingredient so the chances of personal contamination are eliminated.

“Areas we see developing on the chemicals front include garden care products [already a success in France for Iris], swimming pool additives, horticulture and agricultural chemicals, cement powder [which ensures the right mix] and numerous under the sink domestic products that carry the St Andrews Cross warning.