April 22, 2024

Yara's strides toward a smaller plastic footprint

On World Earth Day- themed Planet vs Plastics this year - find out the steps Yara is taking to reduce the environmental footprint of our plastic packaging materials.

Recycling big bags
Recycling big bags

Tackling the plastic crisis

Plastics are widely used in the agriculture sector with uses ranging from irrigation piping, cultivation films, to packaging material. While packaging materials account for a relatively small portion of all agricultural plastic, they still pose a threat to the natural environment if they are not properly produced, used, and disposed of. 

Global production of plastics rose to 400 million tons in 20221. Approximately 36 percent of all plastics produced are used in packaging, with up to 85 percent ending up in landfills or as unregulated waste2. When plastic ends up in landfills, it breaks down into tiny toxic particles called microplastics. These microplastics contaminate the soil, water systemsincluding both oceans and freshwater - as well as the food chain when animals accidentally ingest them3. This could potentially have detrimental health effects on humans and animals.

Furthermore, plastics contribute to climate change via greenhouse gas emissions at every stage of their lifecycle -- from production to waste management.

It is estimated seven billion tons of plastic waste has been generated globally so far, and less than 10 percent has been recycled1. There is an urgent need to reduce the use of plastics, and where possible, to recycle.

Recycled plastic bags in Scotland

Yara's approach to plastic reduction

At Yara, in line with our ambition towards Growing a Nature-Positive Food Future, we are committed to reducing our climate impact as well as the environmental footprint from the use of our products. In addition to complying with regional and local laws and regulations, we are also committed to meeting high safety and quality standards for our products.

It is Yara’s assessment that there are currently no plastic-free solutions that adequately meet these safety and quality standards. Consequently, our focus is primarily on optimizing the production, use, recyclability, and disposal of our plastic packaging. 

Yara’s Vice President for Sustainability Governance, Bernhard Stormyr, points out that the growing challenges of hunger, soil degradation, climate change, and supply chain disruptions demand immediate action from all of us.

“Across industries, there is an urgent need to better manage plastic leakage into the environment. That is why we are taking measures to reduce, recycle and ensure recyclability of plastics by 2030, whilst at the same time securing the safety and quality of our product.”

Bernhard Stormyr, Vice President for Sustainability Governance

Yara aims to reduce the carbon footprint of our packaging materials by 40 percent by 2030, compared to 2021. Yara is doing this in four ways: 

  1. Reducing the amount of plastic per product
  2. Utilizing recycled plastics
  3. Designing for recyclability 
  4. Collaborating on collection and recycling schemes

1- Reducing the amount of plastic per product

From Thailand, to West Africa and India, we are working to reduce the amount of plastic used per bag, while maintaining quality and safety.  

Over the last years, these optimizations have led to nearly a thousand tons reduction in plastic usage across global markets. In West Africa alone, this strategy is reducing our plastic use by more than 500 tons per year.

In Thailand, Yara has introduced a new fertilizer packaging material called Light and Strong which is lighter, stronger, more durable, and usable. Projections suggest it could save approximately 150 tons of virgin plastic per year, with potential for further savings of up to 800 tons annually. In India, we have reduced the thickness of the material used on our 45kg urea bags, resulting in a total annual plastic reduction of around 200 tons. 

2- Utilizing recycled plastics 

We are committed to using recycled plastic in our packaging, where possible.  

In Europe, we are rolling out bags with at least 30% recycled plastic, which would cut our virgin plastic use by 3,000 tons yearly, saving 6,000 tons of CO2e. 

In Brazil, we are developing big bags made from 100% recycled PET, a material which can be recycled endlessly without losing its strength and quality. This has reduced greenhouse gas emissions by half compared to conventional bags, while maintaining quality. Ultimately, this will replace 2,000 tons of virgin plastic and cut emissions by about 4,000 tons annually. 

Finally, we're exploring similar initiatives worldwide, like using recycled plastic in South African big bag liners. 

3- Designing for recyclability 

Almost all the plastic that is used in Yara packaging can be recycled, provided that local collection and recycling schemes are available. The limited packaging materials that cannot yet be recycled will be re-designed for recyclability where possible. 

4- Collaborating on collection and recycling schemes 

Collaboration is key in shaping collection and recycling efforts throughout our value chain. As we do not directly produce or collect plastic packaging, we actively engage with stakeholders to influence production and post-use handling. Recognizing the complexity of these challenges, we leverage our purchasing power and strong supplier relationships to drive necessary changes. 

Recycled plastic bags in Scotland

Currently, Yara is involved in and contributing to collection and recycling initiatives for both agricultural plastics and product packaging materials. This includes collaborating with partners in Germany, France, Colombia, and New Zealand to establish effective schemes. For instance, our PET plastic project in Brazil entails collecting bags from customers to facilitate plastic material reuse. 

Yara will continue to look for viable alternatives as we foresee that non-plastic packaging solutions will develop at the same time with new regulations. This, in addition to our commitment towards climate neutrality through decarbonization and reduction of emissions within the agriculture, shipping, and energy industries.

External resource

1- Global production of plastics since 1950 (Statista)

2- Beat plastic pollution (United Nations Environment Programme)

3- Plastic planet: How tiny plastic particles are polluting our soil (United Nations Environment Programme)

Our position on plastic packaging materials

Yara is committed to continuously reducing our own climate impact, as well as the environmental footprint from the use of our products. This includes reducing the environmental impact of our plastic packaging materials. 

Download position paper (pdf, 1.37 MB)