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Fresh berry leader Driscoll’s has partnered with Think Beyond Plastic to launch the inaugural Agricultural Plastics Innovation Challenge. The initiative aims to stimulate new recycling processes and develop alternatives to conventionally used field plastics.

Driscoll's said that innovators, entrepreneurs, research institutes, start-ups and institutions were encouraged to submit applications for innovative solutions, and winners would have the opportunity to pilot their innovations in a commercial environment.

'The use of plastic in berry production has proven to have significant benefits, such as improved yield, reduced food loss and improved food safety, among other benefits,' the group explained. 'However, a series of environmental, community, and economic impacts remains since recycling is not a viable option for plastics that have contact with the soil, which represents a significant share of agricultural plastics.'

To bring about meaningful and sustainable change, Driscoll’s said it had reached out to additional berry industry leaders, including Aneberries, California Giant, Gem Pak, Good Farms and Naturipe, to join the innovation challenge.

The Agricultural Plastics Innovation Challenge is seen as an opportunity for berry producers to identify early-stage innovations that effectively collect, recycle, compost or convert waste to energy.

A panel of experts will select winners in each category that have demonstrated the capacity to scale their innovations into commercial production and deliver true environmental benefits.

“Driscoll’s is proud to be the corporate sponsor of The Agricultural Plastics Innovation Challenge, as it will support the entire industry in discovering scalable and economically viable solutions to improve the usage and recyclability of agricultural plastics,” said Scott Komar, senior vice president of Global R&D, Driscoll’s.

“We believe it is important to invest in ways to combat plastics waste and understand that as an industry, we all have a role to commit to broad and significant action toward more sustainable product offerings that are good for both people and the planet,' he added.

According to Driscoll's, The Ag Plastics Innovation Challenge complements existing efforts in the berry industry to reduce the environmental impact of plastic clamshells.

In early 2020, Driscoll’s and others across the fresh berry industry made a joint pledge to achieve 100 per cent recycle-ready packaging by 2025.

“As an industry, we share a common goal to reduce the environmental impact of plastics,” said Joe Barsi, president of California Giant Berry Farms. “This challenges us to think beyond the clamshell and address hard to recycle plastic that is used in berry production. We owe it to our growing communities, growers, and consumers to be leaders and help find solutions.”