Everyone knows burning grain bags or any other agricultural plastic in the back forty is a bad idea, but some do it anyway.
The matter came up at the April 5 meeting of Keystone Agricultural Producers during resolution debates.
“There’s been some concern about burning,” said Justin Jenner, District 7 KAP delegate.
“The best way to get this plastic recycled is to get it rolled up and put on the truck and send it to the recycling depot.”
The problem is farmers don’t necessarily have the rolling equipment needed to package plastic waste for recycling, and collection sites won’t take it if it isn’t rolled, he points out.
KAP passed a resolution at the meeting proposing the province include plastic bag rollers as a beneficial management practice under the new Ag Action Manitoba program, eligible for 50 per cent funding.
Saskatchewan’s Farm Stewardship program includes such a financial incentive, noted Jenner. Having one here would likewise facilitate the more recovery and delivery of more agricultural plastics, he said.
“Recycling should be easy and cheap. It is in the city,” he said. “We’re willing to do some of the work but (not burning plastic in the countryside) is a pretty big public good so it would be nice to get some help with that.”
A second resolution calls on the farm group to work with CleanFARMS Manitoba and other interested stakeholders to increase the number of collection sites and expand the list of products they’ll take. Right now farmers have few options to deliver plastic bulk pesticide bags and non-deposit bulk pesticide containers such as totes and barrels.
This issue arose after some farmers complained last fall of some sites not wanting to take non-deposit bulk containers back, said Jenner.
There’s also growing need for some place to recycle other products such as canola seed bags and plastic-lined paper bags.
“They really don’t have anywhere to go,” he said. “There’s a lot of seed bags in Manitoba where unfortunately right now the only option is to burn them.”
It’s an important issue to get addressed because “too much of this stuff being burnt or blown around doesn’t look good for the industry,” he said.
“Consistency across the Prairies would be good too, for people to know what to do with this stuff.”
Farmers can recycle grain bags, bale and silage wrap, and twine at any one of 17 collection sites listed on the CleanFARMS website where hours of operation are also listed.
In an interview Barry Friesen, general manager for CleanFARMS Inc. said that number is expected to expand.
“The expectation is to increase that to 30 over the next couple of years, and following that the government would like to see a full industry stewardship program paid for by industry,” he said.
CleanFARMS Inc. has started programs to collect the mini-bulk bags in Ontario, Quebec and the Maritimes, he also noted.
All programs across Canada are “incremental as each province can figure out how to run these programs and who pays for it,” he said.
The organization has estimated the amount of plastic waste generated on farms in Canada generate to be about 40,000 tonnes, including everything from grain bags, bale wrap and netting, to pesticide and fertilizer containers, plus flowerpots and trays from the greenhouse industries.
That estimate may actually be low, Friesen said. “That’s a very rough estimate. It could be higher but it’s likely not lower.”
They also estimate their collection programs take in about 10 per cent of that volume.
The volume of agricultural plastics is most certainly on the rise, Friesen said.
“Grain bags are a relatively new invention. That’s an increasing trend in the Prairies. There was no bale wrap a few years ago but today almost all of the hay is wrapped for storage.”
The website for CleanFARMS notes once a collection site has accumulated 18 tonnes — or roughly 120 to 140 grain bags — the material is shipped to overseas markets to be washed, pelletized and made into new plastic products.