Business case: Circular business model for greenhouse agricultural plastic waste, Israel

Baseline analysis and challenge

In Israel, growing crops in greenhouses and covered tunnels using plastic covered structures is a common practice. The plastic film covers need to be replaced every 2-3 years and at the moment are not recycled, which generates approximately 6,250 tons of plastic film waste that is illegally incinerated, disposed innature, or sometimes – diverted to proper landfilling. As we know, agricultural plastics are one of the major contributors to soil pollution, contributing to large quantities of microplastics.

Agricultural plastic - case study

According to the Israeli Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, the total area covered by greenhouses in Israel is approximately 100 km². The widespread use of plastic film in the country’s agricultural practices, combined with the lack of a sustainable waste management system, highlights the critical need to address the issue of greenhouse plastic film waste.

The scope of the pilot project

Since 2019, the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) has within the framework of the regional EU-funded SwitchMed programme focused on finding ways to improve the circularity in Israel’s plastic value chain. Together with industry associations, government institutions and key expert organizations, UNIDO has engaged stakeholders in plastics value chain to demonstrate a circular business model that can reform the handling of plastic applications in Israel’s agricultural sector.

The most commonly used material in greenhouse films is transparent Low-Density Polyethylene (LDPE). This material has significant recycling potential, thus recycling the plastic films could create new economic opportunities for farmers and actors along the value chain, while reducing the environmental impact at its end of life.

One of the major limitations for recycling greenhouse plastic films lies in the soil contamination generated when the plastic films are removed from the structures causing recyclers to refuse to accept the dirty plastic films for recycling .

In this context, the objectives of the pilot project were to identify a solution, which can enable the greenhouse cover to be removed in a clean way, while enabling a profitable business model for the collection and recycling of the films .

Presentation of project results

The pilot project and solution

The pilot project conceptualized a solution, where the plastic films are dismantled from the structure by rolling them directly on an irrigation pipe drum without the films touching the ground thus preventing soil contamination. This model was developed based on a consolidated circular practice in Israel to take back the irrigation pipes from the farmers and recycle them to manufacture new pipes.

Irrigation pipes’ drums, and their deployment tool that is connected to a tractor, are widely spread agricultural equipment and available to most farmers in Israel, hence there is no need for any new equipment in order to apply our solution.

The project established a partnership with the Federation of Regional Councils in Israel, local farmers and Infinya Recycling to conduct a series of tests under real operational conditions for collecting Low-Density Polyethylene (LDPE) greenhouse film. Once collected, three bales for a total of 500kg of LDPE films were transported to the recycling plant. Prior to entering the recycling process, visual inspections of the LDPE film were undertaken to identify the appropriate target stream out of three categories: colored plastic (C), semi-transparent plastic (B), and extra clean plastic (A), each of them having a different market value once recycled.

The “drum method” of collecting plastic bales resulted in LDPE films that were free of contamination and could be classified to be recycled into category B. The collected LDPE films were then converted into recyclates, which successfully passed a series of quality tests to ensure they meet the expected quality standards for semi-transparent plastic (B). To produce category A recyclates, the recycler collects extra clean semitransparent raw material – mainly shrink wrap from retailers. As soon as a sufficient quantity of clean raw material is collected, the recycler stops its production line, cleans it thoroughly, and produces pallets from the clean raw material. Therefore, if after routine recycling of the collected film into category B, the recycler will see that a sufficiently high-quality product is obtained, the collected film may be directed into category A.

The recyclates produced are currently intended to be sold to the electric and infrastructure piping sector and we anticipate it can be sold at a price that is 25 to 30% lower than virgin material. If the LDPE collection process can yield plastic films suitable for category A, the resulting recyclates can be sold at a 10% premium on the market. These recyclates can then be utilized into higher grade applications such as plastic films for secondary and tertiarry packaging, which would benefit the whole value chain and increase farmers` revenues.

The pilot project and solution

The pilot project introduced a circular business model that enables the recycling of LDPE films used in Israel’s agriculture by applying an economically viable  reverse logistic model. Moreover, the pilot project demonstrated how the problem of LDPE film waste can be solved while generating new income opportunities along the value chain. With widespread participation, this business model could transform the waste management of plastic films in the agricultural sector across the whole country.

The limiting factor of the recycling scheme is the distance and the resulting cost of transport from the farm to the recycling plant.  In the proposed model the recycling company is offering the possibility to either purchase LDPE films from farmers at a price of 400 NIS (about €100) per ton at the recycling plant, or to collect them for free from the farms and bear the transport cost up to 110 km. Transporting the plastic films to the recycling facility is only viable for farmers within a 200 km radius from the recycling plant, thus covering approximately all of Israel’s northern and central regions. Beyond 200km, it remains more cost-effective for farmers to pay for the disposal of the used plastic film in landfills.

To address the transport cost variable, two alternative scenarios of the proposed circular business model were developed:

  • Creating a set of collection hubs strategically located in agricultural areas that invest in a plastic compactor machine, to increase the volume of plastic carried in each transport by a factor of three, which extends the profitability of the business model to cover the entire state of Israel. Investing in such a compactor is cost-intensive and while it is generally viable, each center should conduct a thorough examination considering its proximity to the recycling plant and expected plastic quantity generated .
  •  government call/funding for the construction of  a second recycling plant for LDPE films in the southern region of Israel, applying the proposed circular business model to decrease transportation costs and also make the suggested business model available and profitable for all regions across the country.

Upscaling recommendations

The quality of the collected films and the resulting recyclates is decisive for any upscale scenario of the demonstrated circular business model for greenhouse plastic films. To ensure the quality of the material, it is recommended to establish dedicated standards, particularly focusing on factors such as cleanliness and consistency in material properties. Building on existing standards, like the Israeli SI 821-1 (2013), and the European EN 15347, national standards could be created as follows:

  • A Waste Greenhouse Cover Film Handling Standard, ensuring the utmost cleanliness and purity of collected plastic, offering comprehensive guidelines for detaching, folding, compacting, baling, loading, and transportation;
  • Dedicated standards introducing uniform testing protocols and reporting mechanisms to facilitate a comprehensive evaluation and comparison of recyclate quality across diverse recyclers and timeframes.
  • A Greenhouse Cover Films Standard, establishing norms for plastic film producers or importers, defining critical attributes, including Design-for-Recycling principles, UV-protection requirements, polymer identification with optional Density and MFR values, and provisions for incorporating recycled materials.

Besides standards, a nationwide expansion of this circular business model depends on several policy and regulatory enhancements that can encompass the enforcement of new rules to prevent air pollution from unauthorized agricultural waste burning, the inclusion of agricultural plastics under the Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) law, and raising landfill fees to incentivize recycling over landfilling. Furthermore, financial incentives such as direct support from the Cleanliness Fund, or subsidies for transportation to recyclers can bridge the gap between farmers and recycling facilities to promote a more widespread adoption of the model.

For more information contact:

United Nations Industrial Development Organization
Ms. Ulvinur Müge Dolun
Division of Circular Economy and Environmental Protection Circular Economy and Resource Efficiency Unit
Vienna International Centre, P.O. Box 300, 1400 Vienna, Austria E-mail: u.dolun@unido.org Web: www.unido.org

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Funded by the European Union, with co-funding from the Government of Italy and the Government of Catalonia, the SwitchMed Programme is implemented under the lead of the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO). Under the MED TEST III project pathways for industries in the Southern Mediterranean to become more resource efficient and to generate savings for improved competitiveness and environmental performance.


This publication was produced with the financial support of the European Union and within the framework of the EU funded SwitchMed programme. Its contents are the sole responsibility of UNIDO and do not necessarily reflect the views of the European Union