Preventing Plastic From Entering The Supply Chain Is Key To Reducing Contamination
• By Vicky Boyd,
Managing Editor •
Despite continued industry efforts to curb the growing problem of plastic contamination in cotton, 2020 saw a higher percentage of classing office plastic calls compared to 2019. Left unabated, that contamination could jeopardize the U.S. reputation for producing a clean, natural fiber.
“The main concern for us is how many (cases of plastic contamination) are not called at the classing office,” said Lauren Krogman, manager, marketing and processing technology with the National Cotton Council. “You don’t know until they’re opened up at the mill. We don’t want to lose our customers and our reputation to contamination.”
Her comments came during a recent virtual “Plastics in Cotton Seminar II” hosted by Texas A&M AgriLife Extension.
Prevention Is Key
Industry leaders say it will take a concerted effort that begins in the field and ends in the gin to keep plastic from entering the supply chain. This will involve education about how to properly stage round modules in the field, how to load and transport them, how to move them in the gin yard, and how to unwrap and load them into the module feeders at the gin.
“You want to find plastic contamination early in the value chain where it’s cheaper to take care of,” said Dr. John Robinson, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension cotton marketing specialist. “Growers bear the cost of the affected bales as it shows up in the grading.”
Failing to address plastic contamination could affect individual grower’s pocketbooks as well as a region or the entire U.S. industry.
Robinson used the sticky cotton problem of the 1980s and 1990s as an example. Arizona growers became known for whitefly-caused stickiness, and mills discounted them 2 cents per pound for several years after.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Farm Service Agency took a hard line against plastic contamination in April when it announced 2021 crop loan rates for Upland cotton with discounts of 3130 points for Level 1 and 3240 points for Level 2 contamination. Those deductions are expected to increase to more than 4000 points for the 2022 crop.
“Bottom line, we’re talking about dollars here, and nothing gets your attention like money,” said Texas Cotton Ginners Association executive vice president Tony Williams. “We’re starting to see a little bit more attention paid both at the grower level and gin level to prevent contamination.”
Plastic By The Numbers
AMS cotton classing offices began separating out plastic contamination with the 2018 crop and tagging those bales as 71 (light contamination) or 72 (heavy contamination).
Although nine of the 10 classing offices saw a decrease in the number of plastic calls on the 2020 crop, Ben Roble, Corpus Christi, Texas, classing office area director, said those numbers don’t tell the full story. Last year’s crop was smaller compared to 2019, and each office handles a different amount of cotton.
A better way is to look at the ratio between the number of calls and total bales classed.
With the 2019 crop, Corpus Christi had one plastic call for every 1,257 bales classed. On the other end of the spectrum, the classing office in Florence, South Carolina, had one plastic call for every 16,797 bales classed.
With the 2020 crop, only two of the 10 national classing offices had improved ratios — Corpus Christi and Dumas, Texas. Corpus Christi had one call for every 1,850 bales classed, and Dumas had one call for every 3,775 bales classed. Although Florence still had the best record, its ratio dropped to one call for every 13,866 bales classed.
In looking at the color of plastic involved in the calls nationally, Roble said 53.7% were yellow, followed by 19.4% pink, 13.9% black and 6.2% blue.
The National Cotton Council in 2020 updated its 12-part video training series on preventing plastic contamination. Each video is 3 to 5 minutes long. To view the series in English on YouTube, visit https://bit.ly/3eQMCuA. A Spanish version is available at https://bit.ly/3vNxlkS.