Recycling better solution than landfill for ag plastics

Special Contributor
A semi hauling a load of dumpsters for Revolution Plastics heads north on Highway 41, destined to be used on Wisconsin farms to recycle ag plastics.

As farm operations grow, changes are made to better manage and store feeds on farm. The use of silo bags, bunkers and wrapped bales for feed storage has increased dramatically on dairy farms over the past 10 years.

The plastics used to cover the feed considered essential to storing and preserving high-quality forages. In the past, there was much shrink, or feed loss, to hay bales sitting out in the elements. Wraps have allowed farmers to bale and store hay at higher moistures and protect the feed from Mother Nature.  Bunker silos have allowed an inexpensive way to store silage, as compared to maintenance and repairs of the traditional silos.

These agriculture plastics has provided farmers with a low-cost method for storing high quality forages. Dairy industry experts estimate that approximately 15 to 20 pounds of all types of agriculture plastics a year are used per cow.  Therefore, a 300-cow dairy farm using plastic silage bags may produce as much as 6,000 pounds a year of waste plastic. It is estimated over 55 million pounds of plastic in the form of silo bags, bale wraps and bunker covers are sold annually to Wisconsin framers.

While the use of agriculture plastics on farm has proven popular, the disposal of used agriculture plastics has become a challenge on many farms.

Based on a 2015 UW-Extension survey, respondents indicated landfilling is the most frequent disposal method for most waste plastics. Burning agriculture plastics ranked second for disposing silage bags, bale wrap, bunker silo covering, bale twine and netting.

According to the DNR, burning ag plastic is not only illegal, but it also releases toxic and potentially cancer-causing chemicals such as dioxins and furans into the air.

Based on the 2015 UW-Extension survey, 85 percent of the respondents were willing to transport their waste plastic to collection points for free disposal, while 45 percent indicated they were willing to have their waste plastic baled and transported off their property for a monthly fee.

The biggest challenge in recycling these materials is cleaning, collecting and transporting the film, which can then be processed and used in products such as plastic lumber and garbage bags.

In Wisconsin and other parts of the country, options for recycling silage bags, bale wrap, bunker silo covers and other plastic films are starting to emerge. Recycling companies are finding ways to collect and transport agriculture waste plastics less expensive than in the past. Recycling the agriculture plastics allow a second life for these products as trash bag liners and other useful plastic products.

Several counties around Wisconsin have turned to offering recycling opportunities for farmers.

According to Green County Extension Agent Mark Mayer, Green County began recycling ag plastics two years ago during spring and fall collections. During these times, farmers could dispose of their used ag plastic films free of charge by hauling it to the local landfill. Since 2014, Mayer said the county has collected more than 250,000 pounds of used ag plastic and recently expanded our collection program to accepting used ag plastic one day a week from any area farmers who are willing to haul it to our facility.

Mayer reports that Extension has partnered with Revolution Plastics on a pilot program last year where the Arkansas-based company provided free Dumpsters on-site to 88 farms in Wisconsin and Illinois. The attractive part of the program, is the supplier provides free, on-site pick for qualifying types of plastic.

The program was so successful, that it has expanded out to hundreds more farms across Wisconsin this year, including those in Fond du Lac County.

Fond du Lac County farmers will have an opportunity Sept. 19-21, to start recycling their agriculture plastics on-farm. Based on a two-year pilot study with UW-Extension Green County, Arkansas-based Revolution Plastics will be providing a free, on-farm ag and silage plastic recycling program in Fond du Lac County as well as other counties  in Wisconsin.

Depending on the farm location, type of agriculture plastic and the amount of waste plastic to dispose, Revolution Plastics will provide an on-farm agriculture and silage plastic collection dumpster at no cost to qualifying farmers. The program is limited to collection of approved plastics: used bale wrap; ag/grain bags; most bunker covers; oxygen barrier film; irrigation tape and tubing; and greenhouse, hoop house, fumigation and other cover films.

Collection dumpsters will be available for pick up to qualifying farms at no charge between 9 a.m. to noon, Sept. 19-21, at the Fond du Lac County Fairgrounds.

For more information, or to register for the agriculture plastics recycling program, please visit or call 844-490-7873.

Kohlman is the UW-Extension Dairy and Livestock Agent for Fond du Lac and Sheboygan counties.