Farmers seize opportunity to dispose of grain bags and baling twine through efficient recycling program

Recycling program gives farmers a chance to let go of grain bags, baling twine

*A pilot program* **launched** by the Alberta Plastics Recycling Association across the province in 2019 *continues to encourage local farmers to recycle agricultural waste instead of burying it or burning grain bags and baling twine.* There’s one caveat, though — the program currently needs more funding to continue operating in the region until a permanent solution is found.

*There’s 62,000 tons of agricultural plastic generated every year across Canada,* and our goal is really to manage all of it and make sure that it all ends up *[in] its proper recycling location,* said Shane Hedderson, *director for the western region at Cleanfarms*.

*What we’ve seen from coast to coast is that where programs exist, where they’re easy to use and cost-effective for farmers to use, there’s overwhelming support,* Hedderson added.

Cleanfarms has collaborated with The Alberta Plastics Recycling Association for the pilot project and works with multiple collection partners across the province.

The team initially received a $1-million grant that was managed by the Alberta Beef Producers, which was responsible for co-ordinating the recycling project.

The three-year program received more funding later through Alberta Agriculture, something that Hedderson is grateful for.

*Realistically, we don’t want to stop the pilot program until there’s a permanent program in place because farmers are doing the work today. They like having access to the program,* he said.

*They want to be able to recycle their grain bags and their twine. The last thing we want to do is stop the program because the funding runs out.*

*Grain bags must be rolled using the right equipment before they’re dropped off at a recycling facility.* This photo shows rolled grained bags that are ready to be shipped for recycling.

The project has grown by leaps and bounds since its inception, according to Hedderson who said that there are now approximately 148 individual collection sites in Alberta.

Around 2700 tonnes of grain bags and 400 tonnes of twine have already been collected so far.

*Farmers are the original stewards of the land, as you know, and farmers want these programs and we’ve seen it in our research, we’ve seen it in our day-to-day conversations,* Hedderson said.

The team’s main objective is to come up with accessible programs that are *cost-effective and that allow farmers to participate.*

*More complex than it seems*

The process isn’t as easy as it may seem. For one, grain bags are massive and weigh around 200 kilograms. They’re as long as 300 feet and are 15 feet wide — it takes* effort to return these giant pieces of plastic to drop-off locations.*

Additionally, the bags must be rolled using the right equipment before they’re dropped off because they’re so huge.

However, many farmers lack access to proper grain bag rollers, something that Hedderson is aware of.

*A lot of the municipalities have actually invested in grain bag rollers that they loan out to the community if they need them,* he said, *adding that some are available for rent while others are supplied free of charge to farmers.*

Additionally, Clean Farms is working with local municipalities to create a robust network of grain bag rollers across Alberta, especially in places where there’s a shortage of equipment.

*The thing is these materials have to be managed [in] some way,* Hedderson said. *[It’s doable] as long as it is, you know, as easy as taking it to the landfill where it generally goes for disposal. That’s one of the reasons why we partner with municipalities is that farmers, producers are going there already.*

Around 62,000 tons of agricultural plastic generated every year across Canada, making it necessary to come up with effective recycling solutions. This photo shows baler twine that is ready to be dropped off for recycling.

Dean Hubbard, an executive with the Agriculture Plastics Recycling group, owns a cash crop farm in Claresholm, Alta.

Hubbard, who also serves on the board of the Alberta Wheat Commission, is no stranger to the challenges associated with the proper disposal of grain bags.

In the past, before recycling options became available, Hubbard would often resort to storing giant grain bags on his farm — he anticipates that he still has 28 to 30 metric tonnes of bags in storage, something that has led to rodents showing up on his farm.

*They attract rodents because they still have a little bit of grain in them,* he said. *They are not something we want stored on our farm.*

One of the options that Hubbard has previously explored is delivering the grain bags to a landfill but it’s not an ideal solution.

*The thought of just burying all that plastic kind of bothered me. I mean, I’m just handing it down to another generation to take care of,* he said.

*I knew other provinces had a program and I knew Alberta would … catch on to this pretty quick too. So we just started to store, hoping that the program would open up.*

*Keep the momentum going*

Hubbard believes that the recycling program has been very successful so far and is fairly easy to access. *We’re getting really good coverage across the province,* he said. *It’s not that far for [the producer to be able to drop-off … either their grain bags or their twine at this point.*

The team faced its share of hurdles at the beginning of the program, according to Hubbard who said that it was a challenge to spread awareness about the recycling project.

*Getting the information out there that this was available and then getting drop-off points and enough locations across the province [was difficult],* he said.

Now that the program has established a foothold in Alberta, Hubbard hopes to introduce more drop-off locations in smaller areas of the province and keep the momentum going.

*We don’t want to lose speed or lose ground and just keep it functioning,* Hubbard said. *\[We want to\] get people used to it so that when it goes permanent, you know, it’s a nice easy transition.*

Hedderson reckons that an extended producer responsibility program for agricultural plastics may be available by 2025.

*We did apply for an additional $400,000 just to try and take us through till the end of that,* he said. *\[The\] key thing is that we want to continue having an outlet for farmers. We want to run this program as if it’s a permanent program until we can roll one very easily into a permanent program down the road.*



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