The Growing Point | September 2019
We all share responsibility for recycling ag plastics
Food production in Alberta, as in all of Canada, is a balance of sun, soil, rain, fertilizers, seed, pesticides and a healthy dose of hard work. Some of these ingredients arrive for use on the farm packaged in plastic containers that, while necessary to deliver ag-products, result in plastic waste that producers have to manage when they are empty. Add to that grain bags, silage wrap, netting and twine and it can amount to a lot of ag-plastic to manage.
The reality is that as much as we do in the farm community to capture single use ag-plastics for recycling or proper disposal (and we have made substantial progress, especially with single use pesticide and fertilizer containers), we can do more.
‘Doing more’ is a responsibility that, for recycling programs to be successful, must be shared by all sectors in the value chain – industry through extended producer responsibility; farmers by ensuring they recover and recycle or properly manage packaging and product waste or unwanted and obsolete pesticides and animal health products; and the reverse supply chain by offering municipal and retail collection networks for farmers and end markets for recovered materials.
Cleanfarms is the only organization in Canada that operates programs that farmers can use to manage ag-plastic waste at the end of its life. Industry-funded and led, it operates programs regionally and throughout the country to collect:
- Pesticide and fertilizer jugs/containers for recycling (23L and under)
- Unwanted and obsolete pesticides and animal health products for secure, special disposal
- Seed and pesticide bags for proper disposal (in eastern Canada with pilots in the prairies)
- Non-deposit, bulk pesticide containers (23L and over) for recycling
- Grain bags for recycling in Saskatchewan and through a pilot in Manitoba
Cleanfarms is best known in the agricultural community for its longest running and highly successful small container (23L and under) recycling program. Last year, Alberta farmers recycled 1.36 million containers. The program has been operating in Alberta for the better part of 30 years. And over those years, $30 million has been directly invested in helping Alberta farms create sustainable, clean farm communities by managing their plastic waste and unwanted and obsolete pesticides and animal health medications.
In Alberta this year, Cleanfarms is expanding its operation by running pilot programs to recover seed and pesticide bags. Plus, under a contract with the Alberta Plastic Recycling Group, we are kicking off a pilot recycling program this October for grain bags and twine. Twenty locations around the province will be designated as collection sites where farmers can take empty, rolled grain bags and twine. (More information on Alberta pilot.)
When they are recycled, ag-plastic containers, bulk plastic containers and grain bags are turned into farm drainage tile and plastic bags.
Plastics, whether a container or a bag, contribute significantly to farm efficiency and farmers’ ability to do their jobs effectively. But using plastics comes with a responsibility to manage it all properly at end of life. We encourage farmers to contribute to agricultural sustainability and clean communities by taking empty containers, grain bags and other end-of-life plastic materials to collection locations for recycling and proper disposal. It’s worth the effort and the investment because it helps keep our farm communities clean.