Since 2002, Brazil has collected 400,000 tons of empty pesticide containers from 1.3 million farms for proper disposal or recycling. That’s equivalent to filling the Maracanã — Brazil’s national football stadium — 26 times. These impressive statistics represent the largest and most successful container management program in the world.

It’s a crop protection industry initiative run by the National Institute for Processing Empty Containers (InpEV) and supported by the Brazilian government. Operational in 2002, InpEV is a non-profit organization that represents the industry in its responsibility to properly dispose of crop protection product containers. InpEV has more than 100 member companies representing the entire value chain in Brazil, including 100 per cent of all crop protection product manufacturers, the Brazilian farmers’ federation, distribution channels and national crop protection associations such as ANDEF (Associação Nacional de Defesa Vegetal).

The program, aptly named Campo Limpo (“Clean Field” in Portuguese), goes like this: By law, farmers are required to properly rinse (pressure or triple rinse) all rigid crop protection product containers and puncture them to prevent reuse. Flexible bags are not rinsable, but they must be returned to collection centres. Growers take all empty containers to the local collection centre indicated on their product invoice. Then InpEV collects the containers and dispatches them to their final destination: a recycling centre (rinsed) or incinerator (unrinsed).

“Dealers and cooperatives must provide the address to which to return containers on crop protection product invoices and offer collection sites,” says João Cesar Meneghel Rando, president of InpEV. “The legal responsibility belongs to these distributors as the law states that whomever sells the products, must recover them.”

Crop protection product manufacturers sell their products through about 4,500 distributors and cooperatives or directly to farmers throughout the country. Farmers must deliver empty product containers within one year of purchase to designated receiving units. More than 400 collection sites are managed by about 270 regional cooperatives and distributor associations. The latter distributors also have to manage the collection sites and issue proof of delivery of empty containers, as well as guide farmers on container management procedures. InpEV supports the operational processes of the receiving units and also provides guidance to farmers about their responsibilities via a good operational practices manual. About 45,000 tons of empty crop protection product containers were recovered in 2015, representing 94 percent of all such containers made of plastic.

This high level of compliance began with a very effective law: In 2000, the proper disposal of empty crop protection product containers became obligatory under the Brazilian federal government with shared responsibility among stakeholders. The government grants licenses to receiving units, inspects all elements of the Campo Limpo system and fines stakeholders who don’t comply. In addition, it supports public education initiatives to spread knowledge of the legislation.

“There are penalties for non-compliance from fines to prosecution as it is considered a crime against the environment,” explains Rando. “All stakeholders are subjected to these penalties. There have been only a few cases of prosecution with growers — we have nearly 100 percent compliance.”