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Rolling out a waste-free way to grow Royals

Rolling out a waste-free way to grow Royals

Monday 28 June 2021

Rolling out a waste-free way to grow Royals

Monday 28 June 2021


An “earth-friendly” products specialist and farmer have teamed up to trial a new agricultural film that would see Jersey Royals become the first potatoes to be grown under a biodegradable and compostable plant-based sheet.

Karen Gray, owner and founder of ‘Green on Purpose’, and Master Farms' Peter Le Maistre laid the first bio-agricultural film in the island last month.

Made out of non-genetically modified corn starch and other vegetable oils, all cultivated in Europe, the film would replace the polyethylene one that has been favoured by farmers up to now.

While the traditional plastic coating has proven benefits, including a high yield and earlier harvests, Karen explained that it creates a lot of waste.

Between 2017 and 2019, the polyethylene films generated 300 tons of waste per year - the equivalent of 12 double-decker buses and 10% of the amount of waste the island sends to the UK for recycling.  

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Pictured: Karen Gray and Peter Le Maistre in his field.

“You can only use the plastic polyethylene film one or twice,” she said. “If it is contaminated by soil, it cannot be used again, and we are talking about specks. 

“With our bio-film, you can leave it down, harvest the crop and roll it back again. It is bio-degradable and compostable, which means it can actually break down in the soil. It went through international testing to show that it breaks down without leaving any toxins in the ground. It’s not going to happen immediately, it will take six months and up to a year depending on the climate.” 

Peter cautiously welcomed the trial, saying it would be “very good news” given the environmental issues posed by plastic.

“There’s a way to go but it’s certainly a journey worth going on and I’ve been impressed by the samples,” he said. “It’s an important issue and if we can crack it, that would be fantastic.” 

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Pictured: Karen is hoping to expand the trial soon.

As the daughter of a farmer, Karen understands how plastic films are used in the industry and she was keen to work with local farmers to develop the right product for them rather than telling them what to do.

She explained a lot of technical aspects had to be considered to find the right product – from the thickness of the film to its resistance to local weather and the number of holes per square meters and whether it could be laid down using the current machinery, which luckily proved possible.

Her interest in eco-friendly plant-based alternatives to single-use plastic items was partly inspired by her father, who also had his own recycling company. 

She launched ‘Green on Purpose’ in 2017 and has since been working with local businesses and organisation to get them to replace the plastic items they use with eco-friendly ones. 

She convinced Highlands College’s Head Chef, Patrick Hoggs, and Director, Rob Moy, to change the packaging in the restaurant, resulting in a total of 270,000 single use plastics being replaced with compostable alternatives.

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Pictured: No new machinery was required to lay the bio-film.

She has also produced her own alternatives to plastic bags made out of a jute, a material whose impact on the environment is lesser than that of cotton, as it uses less water and no water. 

While the current trial is only taking place in one field, Karen is keen to expand it in the next season, with the hope it could become the only type of film used in the island within two years.

“It has not been perfect, we didn’t have enough holes, which shows how technical it is to get the right product,” she said. 

“What we’re going to do now is we need to get bigger film, more holes,… our manufacturer is looking a different alternatives for another sample for the next crop so that we can get more farmers involved. 

“The trial has been good, we have learned a lot and we are just modifying it and we will trial again in January and we will see how it works.”

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Pictured: It's hoped that the bio-film could become the only type of film used in the island within two years.

The bio-film, which looks the same as a plastic sheet, would cost more than its plastic alternative, but as Karen stressed that farmers would be saving on their recycling costs.

In addition, it would yield many benefits not just for farmers but for the island as a whole, as Jersey could become a pioneer in the field. As Karen explained, bio-films have been used around the world but not on potatoes. 

She also believes another industry could be created by extracting starch from potatoes left in fields to create plastic products in the spirit of ‘circular economy’ while alternatives to the current Royals’ packaging could also be found.

“There is a lot of pressure on the farmers to be eco-friendly, it’s in their best interested,” she said. 

“Jersey Royals are nowhere else in the world, they are unique to Jersey. There is a lot of social awareness we could do about that. Jersey is working towards carbon neutrality, by reducing plastic, we are reducing our carbon footprint, there is a bigger picture here hand just the farmers.”

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