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Little miracles happen. Not earthshaking miracles that change life for millions of people but the kind that impacts a problem only a few people (especially livestock farmers) face but spread over a long time can have a serious environmental impact.

The longtime problem: What to do with the plastic used in feed storage?

Background

Over the years, perhaps the question I’ve most often been asked is: What are those long, white rows of something lined up along fence rows and near barns — they look like fat caterpillars?

My answer was always easy to give: Those white rows or white piles are corn or hay being cured like in an upright farm silo. About 20 -25 years ago equipment was developed that tightly packed newly cut hay or corn into air-free bags for curing. I wrote a column maybe 20 years ago about a Dane county dairy farmer using an “ag bagger” - the first one I’d seen up close. The system spread across the state during that era.

The forage was then moved with an end-loader from the bags to the TMR to the dairy cows over the winter. Some of the white “worms” were actually round bales packed inside an endless plastic bag. Then there were the big piles of corn packed inside of high wall bunkers or in a big pile—all covered, usually with white plastic held in place by slices of old rubber tires.

Forage storage in or under plastic has become common place in recent decades as dairy herds have increased in size and feeding is done with big equipment.

Usually the questioner then asked: What do the farmers do with the plastic after they have used the feed that had been stored?

My answer was always a bit vague because there was no good answer. I suggested that many farmers took the old and often dirty plastic to a landfill for which they often had to pay a fee. I also suggested that some farmers burned the old plastic knowing that burning wasn’t a good idea but feeling they had little choice.

Over the years a number of commercial companies began programs to recycle the plastic but they were short lived and were soon gone. Meanwhile many farmer friends expressed their dismay (to me) that they felt guilty putting all this plastic in landfills knowing it was not good environment ally-wise.

The ‘miracle maker'

As more and more plastic was being used for feed storage, farmers still had no answer as what to do with the used plastic. That is until Revolution Plastics, a Stuttgart, Arkansas company and subsidiary of Lone Rock-based Delta Plastic, the nation’s leading manufacturer and supplier of irrigation poly tube for the agriculture industry appeared on the scene about a year ago and began a plastic recycling program.

The program includes providing farmers with dumpsters which hold 8 cubic yards and 1,000 pounds, in which to pack the used plastic and the pick up service to haul the plastic away, all at a great price—free.

4400 dumpsters

It sounds almost to good to be true but it’s working and expanding daily. “We now have 4400 dumpsters on farms in Wisconsin and Minnesota with some in Iowa and Illinois,” says Price Murphy director of operations, at Revolution Plastics,

Murphy explains that his company has been recycling ag plastic tape and tubing in the south for more than two decades, but saw Midwest dairy producers as another target market from which to obtain the raw material for their manufacturing process. “We knew dairymen were using similar plastics in the Midwest for silage bags and covers and saw it as an opportunity,” Murphy said.

Plastics only accepts low-density polyethylene plastics such as silage bags, bunker covers, bale wrap, oxygen barrier films, irrigation tape and tubing, and other cover films. The waste plastic is picked up at farms, hauled to Madison in one of the eight big trucks for baling and then to Arkansas for processing.

Up until this past Monday, July 24 when the Madison plant began baling plastic, it was being baled at the Green county landfill in Brodhead, Murphy continues.

How does Revolution Plastic succeed in recycling farmers well-used plastic where previous companies have failed?

They need it

Pure and simple, they did not have a market for the plastic but "we are a manufacturer, “ Murphy says. "We need the raw material to make our popular garbage can liners.” Revolution Bags are EPA compliant garbage bags that are sold exclusively to the institutional market, with customers like the Atlanta International Airport, Denver’s Mile High Stadium and the New York City schools." And, they also sell recycled plastic (post-consumer resin), to other companies.

According to the company website (Delta Plastic.com) have developed a "closed loop" collection program and a patented washing and recycling system that allows them to reuse the plastic. Meaning? Farmers need not clean their plastic before pickup.

Delta Plastics was a a small poly tube manufacturing company when, after nearly 19 years in the banking industry in Louisiana, Dhu Thompson decided he wanted a different career, so he and his wife Mary Ellen bought the company in 1996.

The company recovers, cleans and processes more than 150 million pounds of material each year and since 1998, has diverted over 1 billion pounds of waste material from landfills. For their efforts they have received a host of conservation and environmental and business awards.

Madison - just opened

The new Madison facility just being completed - is a former trucking company warehouse. It includes an office building and a large building where the trucks unload, the plastic is baled and then shipped to Arkansas for recycling.

Seldom do farmers find such a much needed and crucial service that fits their needs so well that is free but Revolution Plastics fits that description perfectly. Not only can farmers solve a long standing problem but have a clear conscience about properly disposing of plastic in an environmental manner.

that doesn’t fit the description of being a minor miracle I don’t know what does. To join the Revolution Plastics program call 844-490-7873 or go to Revolution Plastics.com and get the details and sign up soon you’ll have you’re own little white dumpster.

What could be better.?

John Oncken is owner of Oncken Communications. He can be reached at 608-222-0624, or email him at jfodairy2@gmail.com.

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