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Daily News Blog

05
Jul

Organic Needs to Lead by Eliminating Plastics

(Beyond Pesticides, July 5, 2022)  Plastics are a huge environmental problem, yet organic production and handling continue to exacerbate the problem instead of solving it. There are opportunities for change with different mulching systems, intercropping, and packaging materials. It is time to ensure organic’s commitment to addressing the existential crises associated with a petroleum-based economy and lead the way in combatting the climate crisis by ending plastic use in agricultural production and food packaging.

Tell the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) it must lead in phasing out plastic at all stages of production and handling.

Plastic production and use aggravate the climate emergency via the production and use of plastics. Researchers have found, “The U.S. plastics industry is responsible for at least 232 million tons of CO2 gas emissions per year. This amount is equivalent to the average emissions from 116 average-sized (500-megawatt) coal-fired power plants.”

Plastic is intentionally added to organic farms in the form of mulch, netting, tree guards, plant containers, irrigation tubing, feed bags, and many other items. The largest use, and the one that has received attention by the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) is plastic sheet mulch.

The Organic Foods Production Act (OFPA), in recognition of current practices by organic farmers, allows non-PVC plastic mulch if it is removed at the end of the growing or harvest season. The fact that huge quantities of plastic are carted off to landfills every year from organic farms created a demand for plastic mulch that will degrade on site. As of 2014, organic growers are allowed to use “biodegradable biobased mulch film” (BBMF) which does not need to be removed. However, there are still no available products that meet the regulatory definition of biodegradable. Furthermore, while BBMF may be “biodegradable” in name, it is now apparent that it does not totally degrade, but leaves microplastic particles in the soil.

Microplastics cause harmful effects to humans and other organisms through physical entanglement and physical impacts of ingestion. They also act as carriers of toxic chemicals. Studies on fish have shown that microplastics and their associated toxic chemicals bioaccumulate, resulting in intestinal damage and changes in metabolism. Soil organisms and edible plants ingest microplastic particles. Earthworms can move microplastics through the soil, and microplastics can move through the food chain to human food. Microplastics can have a wide range of negative impacts on the soil, including reduction in growth and reproduction of soil microfauna. Microplastics serve as hotspots of gene exchange between different microorganisms, potentially increasing the spread of antibiotic resistant pathogens in water and sediments.

BBMFs are not removed from the field by the grower but are tilled into the soil, purposefully creating microplastics to be degraded by soil organisms. However, growers report that fragments persist in the soil, and research on the eventual fate of biodegradable mulch films is ongoing. Still, some research indicates that the BBMFs do not completely degrade and may degrade more slowly when tilled under the surface, that they contain components that may be hazardous, and particles may adsorb persistent toxicants.

The use of natural organic materials in compost and mulch is foundational to organic production, which is intended to mimic natural ecosystems. In natural systems, plants are fed by the action of soil organisms breaking down plant residues and excreting substances that are plant nutrients. Natural mulches are the organic alternative—providing a steady diet of organic matter for soil organisms.

The NOSB has not examined organic food packaging and placed on hold consideration of “Packaging materials including BPA.” BPA (bisphenol A) is the molecular building block for polycarbonate plastics and epoxy resins. The epoxy resins are also used as a coating for metal cans and other containers. BPA was listed as a reproductive toxicant by the state of California in 2015. The Technical Review (TR) commissioned by the National Organic Program provides further documentation of human exposure, citing studies showing that BPA leaches from the plastic linings of metal cans. BPA leaching from the linings of cans violates the prohibitions in law against the “use or reuse of any bag or container that has been in contact with any substance in such a manner as to compromise the organic integrity of any organically produced product or ingredient placed in those containers.”

Plastic packaging is a major source of environmental contamination. The National Academies of Sciences find, “Plastic containers and packaging comprise the largest fraction of the plastic waste stream (41%) and enter the waste stream most quickly after production in the year they are produced.”

In addition to plastic used in crop production and packaging, plastics enter into every aspect of organic food production. Plastic containers, tubing, and implements may be used in processing. All these uses pose potential hazards as chemicals migrate from plastic to food.

Eliminating plastic will not be easy, but in view of the numerous threats that are now recognized, it is important for organic production and handling to lead the way in making the transition. The NOSB should add the development of a strategy for eliminating plastic to the NOSB work agenda.

Tell the NOSB to get plastic out of organic.

This is a Regulations.gov action, which requires you to go to Regulations.gov and insert a comment into a form. Please copy and paste some or all of the above text, as a comment to the NOSB. The above link takes you directly to Docket # AMS-NOP-22-0042, where you can comment.

Need help in submitting comments? Regulations.gov requires more than a single click, but it is not difficult. Please feel free to cut-and-paste the three comments above into Regulations.gov and add or adjust the text to personalize it. See this instructional video. (Regulations.gov has changed its look since this video was made.)

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10 Responses to “Organic Needs to Lead by Eliminating Plastics”

  1. 1
    Emily Brandt Says:

    It’s such a contradiction for organic produce to be sold in single-use recyclable or not containers when cardboard and many other compostable packaging. We already pay more for organic products so please stop polluting with plastic! We will champion your change!

    Thanks!

  2. 2
    Nick Galante Says:

    When we buy ORGANIC we do so to protect the food we eat from abuse, the planet from abuse, and our bodies too. Let’s go the full route including the packaging of our organic food so as to do the same thing. Stop using plastic containers on organic food. Help ourselves and our planet. Thank you.

  3. 3
    Marjorie Stamm Rosenfeld Says:

    I rely on organic food, as I have been chemically sensitive since 1985 due to paint exposures. But in addition to plastic used in crop production and packaging, plastics enter into every aspect of organic food production. Plastic containers, tubing, and implements may be used in processing. All these uses pose potential hazards as chemicals migrate from plastic to food. Please get plastics out of organic food!

  4. 4
    Jan C. Salas Says:

    get the plastic out of organic – PLEASE

  5. 5
    Kathy Kushman Says:

    We buy organic fruit and veggies and want to get rid of plastic containers. We recycle but most go to landfills here. Please take care of our planet. Plastics have to go.

  6. 6
    Sean San Jose Says:

    Plastics are a huge environmental problem, yet organic production and handling continue to exacerbate the problem instead of solving it. The largest use, and the one that has received attention by the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB), is plastic sheet mulch.

  7. 7
    Lynn Ricci Says:

    My heart hopes that the right thing is done so that ALL living can live their life.❤️❤️

  8. 8
    Leslie Richardson Says:

    Plastics are a huge environmental problem, yet organic production and handling continue to exacerbate the problem instead of solving it. The largest use, and the one that has received attention by the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB), is plastic sheet mulch.
    Get Plastic Out of Organic!

  9. 9
    Deborah VanDamme Says:

    You must phase out plastic production immediately. Time has run out on Earth for any more pollutants. STOP IT NOW, please.

  10. 10
    Holly Hall Says:

    We are already drowning in platics! It is circulating in our blood and sitting in our lungs. WE HAVE TO STOP THE USE OF PLASTICS NOW! Organic food should be leading the way here. All life on earth is being affected.

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