Agricultural chemicals and waste management

Limiting the production of agricultural waste and washings

In order to reduce the environmental impact of production activities, every entrepreneur, including farmers, is obliged to take measures to prevent or reduce waste and waste water.

Such activities are primarily:

  1. Eco-design, i.e. planning a product (including its packaging) in such a way that it has as little impact as possible on the environment throughout its life cycle, i.e. during manufacture, transport, storage, use and disposal. Examples include packaging of an agricultural product that reduces the amount of storage space required, allowing large quantities to be transported at one time, packaging that allows the product to be recycled with the product, etc.,
  2.  Introduction of BAT (Best Available Techniques), resulting in increased production efficiency and reduced waste and wastewater,
  3. Reducing waste at source, i.e. in manufacturing processes. It is a strategy for preventing the effects of activities. The effect of reducing waste at source is to reduce the costs of collecting, managing and disposing of waste after production processes,
  4. Introduction of environmental management principles. Such a system aims to verify the production and farm management processes in terms of their environmental impact and to continuously improve them in order to reduce such impact (e.g. reduce the amount of waste and wastewater generated).

The environmental management system includes:

  • modifying technological processes on the farm, in terms of better use of raw materials and materials,
  • ensure transport and storage conditions for raw materials, materials and products that prevent them from being damaged, soaked, spoiled, deteriorating in suitability or becoming out of date,
  • to manage raw materials and materials and chemicals rationally, without creating excessive stocks, often causing them to exceed their shelf life or expiry date,
  • conduct regular stock checks,
  • co-ordinate the work in the various elements of the farm,
  • seeking opportunities to reduce material consumption and waste,
  • analyse the efficiency of the use of raw materials, the consumption of materials, water and energy, and the amount of waste and wastewater generated per unit of product,
  • using raw materials and materials of the best quality to achieve greater production efficiency and reduce waste,
  • recycling of waste and the use of all possible and legal means of preparing waste for reuse. Adherence to environmental principles in all phases of production,
  • carry out periodic maintenance and repair of equipment, plant and machinery,
  • train farm workers in reducing the use of materials, water and energy and chemicals to counteract bad habits and raise awareness of the economic and environmental impacts of waste generation and the benefits of minimising waste generation.

In order to reduce the amount of agricultural washings generated, the principles of ‘Good Practice for the Application of Plant Protection Products’ should be applied:

  1. After washing the tools and utensils, such as scales, spatula or measuring jug, used to prepare the spray liquid, the contaminated water should be poured into the spray tank with the spray liquid and used during spraying,
  2. After spraying, the residue of the unused spray should be diluted with water and sprayed onto the previously treated area,
  3. It is advisable to use sprayers suitable for continuous internal washing. Measurements carried out show that, compared with cyclic washing, continuous washing allows the sprayer to be washed very thoroughly with 50% less water, in twice the time. The concentration of plant protection product in the water remaining in the system after a properly conducted continuous wash is always less than 1%,
  4. Spray the water used to wash the apparatus on the surface previously sprayed, using the same personal protective equipment,
  5. External cleaning of the sprayer shall be carried out – in the absence of a suitable place – on the field or plantation where the plant protection product was applied. This practice keeps residues of plant protection products off the site of application to a minimum. Contaminants washed off there pose no risk to humans, animals or the environment and will degrade naturally. Washing off the substance should be carried out immediately after treatment, while the sprayer is still wet, because much more of the substance is rinsed off than after it has dried. In addition, less water and pressure are needed to wash it off than when it has dried,
  6. External cleaning should preferably be carried out in a location where the washing water can be captured (e.g. on a sealed floor with an outlet to a tank or on a bioremediation stand) and the active substances it contains safely neutralised. It is imperative that washing under such conditions is carried out using a high-pressure washer to minimise the amount of washings generated,
  7. Washings should be captured and subjected to bioremediation (e.g. in Biobed, Phytobac®, Biofilter, Vertibac type beds), completely eliminating them. They can also be dehydrated (Heliosec®, Osmofilm®) and then – already concentrated – handed over to a specialist company for disposal. For more on methods of disposing of washings from sprayers, see Handling chemical waste.

The biggest problem on the farm is unnatural production residues. Waste from agricultural operations other than that used in the organic recycling process can be recycled. These can include a number of non-natural wastes listed below, both hazardous and non-hazardous.

However, in order to recycle the above waste, it must be handed over to another entity with a decision to collect or treat this waste. It is not possible to mix this waste with other types, as this prevents further processing. The collection of such selectively collected waste is cheaper or even free of charge, as companies receive revenue from the products made from it.

Among waste of non-natural origin, a distinction should be made:

1) Hazardous waste

They must be collected in such a way as to ensure that residues of these substances do not escape into the environment, and then handed over to a specialist company with a decision authorising the management of this waste.

Hazardous waste includes:

  1. packaging and residues of hazardous substances (e.g. plant protection products, paints, repellents, lacquers, solvents, adhesives, sealants). In the case of residues from crop protection product use and rinses from spraying, these residues must be used after dilution on the treated area. Alternatively, they can be bioremediated in biologically active beds or concentrated by depriving them of water,
  2. oils, fuels, lubricants,
  3. oil filters,
  4. used cleaning cloths and rags contaminated with hazardous substances,
  5. used sorbents,
  6. brake fluids,
  7. fluorescent lamps, fluorescent tubes, energy-saving bulbs,
  8. expired medicines and veterinary preparations, 
  9. batteries and accumulators,
  10. waste electrical and electronic equipment,
  11. worn-out or unserviceable vehicles.

2) Non-hazardous waste

They should be collected selectively so that they can be effectively recycled and then handed over to a waste company authorised to manage this waste. These may include:

  1. plastic packaging and waste,
  2. packaging and glass waste,
  3. packaging and metal waste,
  4. ashes,
  5. used machine parts,
  6. renovation waste, fencing, rubble,
  7. municipal waste,
  8. concrete and brick rubble.

Old tyres, machine parts and used fencing that you wish to dispose of must be handed over to a company that has a decision on the management of this type of waste. In the event that the equipment is repaired by another business, workshop, the company carrying out the service, being the generator of the waste, is obliged to manage it. Old used tyres sent for recycling can become the tread of a football pitch or the safe base of a playground.

The producer of the waste, which in this case is the veterinarian, is obliged to dispose of veterinary waste generated during treatment of animals (of natural as well as unnatural origin), unless otherwise stated in the service contract. Residues of medicines and their packaging must be dealt with according to what is stated on the label of the preparation. In the absence of specific provisions, they are kept in a hazardous waste warehouse, protected from access by third parties, until they are handed over to a company authorised to dispose of this type of waste.

For more in the guidance on the use of by-products and recommended handling of waste in agriculture and the agri-food industry, see the European Development Agency report, 2019: