As we have discussed in the past, the world of agriculture is constantly changing and evolving. A topic on the agenda at the moment is plastic recycling. We are all accustomed to recycling household waste and at an industrial level it is also common practice. We were surprised to learn that Agricultural plastic recycling is not as common and has quite a number of challenges to implement.
Plastic wraps and grain bags are become increasingly popular as flexible storage methods.
On top of the grain bags and wraps there are items such as greenhouse poly, plant pots, baling twine and net wrap. Many of these are hard to recycle currently. There are a number of municipalities in Alberta who have some Agricultural plastics recycling programs in place but they vary in approach and pricing strategy. Some pay producers to drop off plastics, others charge for receipt.
We recently attended an event hosted by the Alberta Association of Municipal Districts & Counties (AAMDC) & the Recycling Council of Alberta. We learnt the following at this event:
- With few alternatives for disposal, some producers burn plastics, a practice that is illegal in the Province, not to mention the environmental effects from the resulting toxic fumes.
- Rolling and cleaning grain bags is a time consuming process. Transporting them is expensive.
- The major challenge with plastic recycling is contamination. This can be in the form of dirt and rocks, grain or silage, making sorting and processing the plastic complicated and expensive. Contamination effects the quality of the plastic that is made from the recycled material and quality consistency is very important in this process. Plastics also degrade over time from sunlight and weather exposure, hence older plastics are harder to recycle.
- Between 6,600 & 14,000 tonnes of agricultural plastic waste is generated each year in Alberta alone.
- Transporting plastics to a processor can be very expensive. Not all plastics can be recycled in North America meaning some have to be shipped to Asia or Europe for processing.
- Without a recycling deposit system in place and with the low recycling value of the plastics, the question of who pays for recycling was hotly debated.
- Saskatchewan is leading the way in an effort to recycle grain bags with a legislative backbone that has created 17 different locations where the plastics can be dropped off. This program is run by Clean Farms
It is clear in discussing this topic that producers want to do the right thing and very much care about plastics disposal. However, finding a practical and economic solution for this problem will require collaboration between the agricultural industry, the Provincial government and the plastics recycling industry so that some of the hurdles can be overcome. One suggestion we made is looking to the carbon levy as a source of funding to support the introduction of recycling programs. This could be a way of overcoming some of the start up hurdles and creating a good news story of a new industry right here in Alberta. We are sure there will be more on this topic in the coming months.