AgEnterprise Challenge Winner Takes Innovative Idea to Reality
By now, most people are aware that single-use plastic bags and water bottles are a big problem for the environment. And Entomology PhD student Krisztina Christmon has spent her share of time on clean-up events ensuring these pollutants make it to a recycling center. But for the past two years, she has had her sights set on cleaning up tons of plastic that most of us never see: farm plastics.
Plasticulture, as agricultural plastic is called, accounts for a huge amount of waste. North American farms’ plastic films alone produce half of a million tons of scrap each year according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. This is alarming given the use is only projected to increase.
“Plastic films and tubing are essential for farming but at the end of the season most of these materials end up in landfills, burnt in the field, or buried in the soil,” explained Christmon. “The safer alternative would be to recycle them; however the recycling infrastructure of the U.S. is not equipped to handle many farm plastics.”
Christmon is committed to helping farmers on the Eastern Shore and beyond recycle their plastic waste by 2030. She has established Repurpose Farm Plastic LLC, a company that aims to “mechanically recycle agricultural plastic waste at a local scale,” (repurposefarmplastic.com) where she serves as CEO-a role that allows her to establish a customer base and open a dialogue with established recycling centers. The idea was born out of AGNR’s 2020 AgEnterprise Challenge, where student groups tackle ag and natural resources specific issues in a competition against their peers.
“In 2020, the AgEnterprise Challenge was to come up with ways to repurpose decommissioned poultry houses on the Eastern Shore,” said Christmon. “When I learned about the Challenge I thought if I would have a big enough building to do whatever I want to, I would create a plastic sorting, washing, recycling facility. In the Challenge, my team loved my idea. We then researched the type of plastic used in rural areas like the Eastern Shore.”
Moving forward, she and Benjamin Rickles, who serves as the CTO of the company, are working on sources of funding and increased partnership development, both on and off campus.
“By 2050, half of the planets’ population will live in cities, far from fields where their food is coming from,” explained Christmon. “Therefore, the biggest part of our job is to raise awareness for farmers and consumers as well to work together towards a sustainable agricultural system.”
In terms of a full-time commitment after finishing their PhDs, they want to see how it plays out. In the meantime, they’d love to hear from and work directly with more members of Maryland’s community.
by Graham Binder : Momentum Winter 2022