Hay is wrapped in it. Grain is stored in it. Twine holds it together.
Plastic saves farmers time and money by reducing their storage costs, but the increasing amount used raises the question — what to do with it after you’ve used it?
Municipalities don’t want large volumes of discarded agricultural plastic taking up space in landfills. That’s why farmers often burn it, or bury it to get rid of it. But there’s a better way.
“Every piece of plastic that comes off the farm has the potential to be recycled,” says Tammy Myers with the Moose Jaw River Watershed Stewards (MJRWS).
Myers is serving as the technical consultant this spring and fall as CleanFARMS and Green Manitoba team up with MJRWS to offer a pilot collection program for agricultural plastics here.
“There’s very high volumes of this material out there,” said Myers, adding it’s in the form of 400-foot grain bags as well as all the bale netting and plastic twine that accumulate on farms.
The amount collected at depots operating elsewhere in the Prairie provinces is one indication of the amount of plastic out there.
From just three depot sites in Saskatchewan where farmers have dropped off their used grain storage bags, bale wrap and twine, they shipped 1.5 million pounds in the past five years.
And that’s only what farmers willing to recycle these materials brought in. There’s plenty more out there, said Myers.
“Our biggest competitor is a Bic lighter and some diesel fuel,” she said.
And while burning may be the cheapest, fastest way to get rid of it, U.S. studies conducted by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) say burning this plastic at lower temperatures than incinerators produces carcinogenic contaminations from drifting from smoke and ash in surrounding soil and water.
But plastic recycling companies in both Canada and the U.S. can include these in their reformulations to create benches, decking and fence posts, and recycled plastic can also be cleaned, shredded and melted into pellets for resale and reuse around the world.
This spring Manitoba will run a pilot program offering farmers a way to recycle their agricultural plastics, with another planned for fall. The pilot will help them learn from farmers the best way to offer this service and determine feasibility of a more permanent program, said Myers.
Experience shows that the easier recycling agricultural plastic can be done, the higher the participation rate.
Manitoba’s spring collection sites in Dauphin, Steinbach, Treherne, Portage la Prairie, Pierson and Neepawa will be in operation March 23 to 27 where clean and dry bale and silage wrap, grain bags and plastic (polypropylene) twine will be accepted. There will be free collection bags at participating sites.
Plastic storage bags have been used by farmers for about 20 years, but their use has notably increased recently. Packaging of hay in individually wrapped bales or in long bale bags allows farms to cut and leave feed in the field and feed on demand, while large plastic grain bags provide a lower unit cost to store grain until ready to ship.
Myers said recycling agencies have eyed all forms of agricultural plastics and worked with producers across the Prairies.
“This actually started between B.C. and Alberta,” she said, adding that large volumes of plastic twine come from Alberta’s feedlot alley, while B.C.’s horticultural industries are also a large generator of plastic there.
CleanFARMS is one of Canada’s first and longest-running stewardship programs and was awarded a Manitoba Excellence in Sustainability Award earlier this winter.
2015 marks the 25th year collecting empty pesticide containers, and the numbers of these are significant as well. In 2013 600,000 containers were diverted from Manitoba landfills in 2013 and in 2012 close to 75,000 kilograms of obsolete product was collected and safely disposed of.
The program has also expanded to collections of obsolete animal health medications.
For more details on Manitoba’s spring pilot program log on to cleanfarms.ca.