Agricultural plastic waste is an environmental concern for many farmers. CleanFARMS, a national, industry-led stewardship organization, is attempting to alleviate that pressure in two Canadian provinces in a “green” way.
In Ontario, CleanFARMS is piloting an agricultural plastic waste recycling program in the Lake Simcoe watershed, and will involve the use of bale wrap.
“This pilot project will lay the groundwork for a comprehensive program to responsibly manage all agricultural waste plastic across the province,” says Barry Friesen, general manager of CleanFARMS.
“Farmers don’t want to burn waste or send it to landfills, but it’s difficult for them to be good stewards when there aren’t programs in place to help them,” says Friesen. “Where there are programs in place, the participation rate from farmers is tremendous.”
Ontario farmers generate more than 14,000 tonnes of waste on their farms each year. Some stewardship programs are in place for certain agricultural waste products, but for many products, no recycling options exist.
The pilot program in Lake Simcoe is being sponsored by the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs.
CleanFARMS has a long history of environmental farm programs in Ontario. Its empty pesticide container recycling program has been in operation since 1989. Ten years later, its now-obsolete pesticide collection program began.
Saskatchewan is hoping to capitalize on CleanFARMS’ experience in operating those programs. To that end, the Saskatchewan government is working with CleanFARMS to reduce the agriculture industry’s environmental footprint by reducing waste from grain bags, bale wrap and twine.
“Saskatchewan is an innovative province that is well positioned to become a leader in agricultural plastics recycling,” says Friesen. “In many cases, the technology is already in place.”
Saskatchewan is in the final stages of completing a one-year pilot program, which was announced in March 2011. Plastic grain bags are rolled with a special machine and collected at eight locations. The bags are shipped to Alberta and eventually turned into material to make garbage bags.
The only cost to the producer is their time and transportation to the collection site. The federal and provincial governments contributed $160,000 to the project. The Provincial Council of ADD Boards administered the program and contributed another $50,000.
There are six primary collections sites at Prince Albert, Kelvington, Estevan, Abbey, Unity and Viscount. The Moose Jaw River Watershed Stewards, a non-profit organization consisting of local towns, villages and rural municipalities, have two collection sites at Milestone and Moose Jaw.
Statistics have not been released for the amount of plastic collected, but PCAB executive director Tamara Weir-Shields says comments from participating producers have been very positive.
“We did not know what to expect,” says Weir-Shields. “Most of the bags so far have been returned in the last quarter of 2011. Unity and Abbey have the highest numbers, but all depots have been successful considering the long fall and excessive moisture in some areas.”
Discussions are now underway to develop a long-term program to recycle on-farm plastic waste in Saskatchewan. It is generally agreed that a permanent program will require more collection sites.
“The key thing is having great accessibility,” says McLean. “We have already proven through the empty pesticide container program that farmers are ready and willing to participate, as long as we give them the tools to do the job.”
He also says research reveals the most successful programs have government legislation that mandate participation, such as those used to manage tires, paint and electronics.
A meeting was held with industry stakeholders in Saskatoon this week in advance of CleanFARMS proposing a program to the Ministry of Environment by the end of March.
“It’s baby steps right now, but there is certainly no reason in the world that we couldn’t have a permanent program for these products in a year or two,” says McLean.
Alberta and Manitoba will be invited to participate in the discussions as well, McLean says, because it would be nice to have a three-province solution.