More options needed for recycling plastics commonly used on the farm
Plastics such as silage film, grain and silage bags, and bale wrap have revolutionized how and where livestock forage is stored and increases the quality of the feed. While these advancements may have made things easier on the farm, what to do with all that plastic after it has been used is a challenge.
Because agricultural plastics--“ag plastics”--are lightweight film and tend to be dirty, they are less desirable for traditional recyclers. Lightweight film plastics can clog recycling equipment, are often soiled with debris, and tend to have an odor. These factors limit what types of new products that plastic can be recycled into. While some types of plastics such as medical grade plastics have to come from virgin sources, other types of products—like garbage bags and even silage plastic--can be made of recycled plastics.
Ag plastic waste is a nuisance on the farm as these plastics are unsightly and take up a lot of space. While some landfills may accept ag plastics, they are bulky and add to a farm’s operating expenses if they go into the dumpster. It is harmful to the environment (and is illegal in Wisconsin) to burn ag plastics, yet many farms resort to burning just to get rid of it. The good news is that there are a couple alternatives available to farms in Wisconsin who looking for a recycling option for their used ag plastics.
Options for Recycling Ag Plastics
Farms willing and able to bring their plastics to a collection site may have several options available locally. Municipal waste and recycling facilities may accept plastics for recycling. If recycling facilities in your area do not yet offer ag plastics recycling, ask that they consider doing so. Several counties across Wisconsin hold ag plastics collection events to collect plastics for recycling.
On-farm pick up of ag plastics may also be an option for some farms in Wisconsin. Revolution (www.revolutioncompany.com) is a company in Wisconsin that operates recycling facilities in Madison and New London, and provides on-farm 8 yard recycling dumpsters or Recapture Bags for collection of approved plastics. Recapture Bags are available directly through Jordan Ag Supply in Monroe, Wisconsin: https://www.jordanagsupply.com/
The 8 yard dumpsters are available directly through Revolution by calling 844-490-7873. Other plastics manufacturers in Wisconsin may be able to accept and use ag plastics as well, depending on the types of products they manufacture. It may be worth a call to a local plastics manufacturer to inquire about their receptivity to accepting ag plastics.
Some may be willing to do so either free of charge or for a fee. Whether participating in a collection event or taking plastics to a facility, it is often helpful for the recycler or manufacturer willing to accept these plastics if they are baled or contained within recapture bags as this makes the transport and drop off process much easier.
It is also worth noting that other types of plastic commonly found around the farm that should be disposed of properly include pesticide containers. These can be brought to Clean Sweep and other Hazardous Material collection events for proper recycling. The Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protect (DATCP) in Wisconsin manages the Clean Sweep program and lists Clean Sweep events on their website: https://datcp.wi.gov/Pages/Programs_Services/CleanSweep.aspx. Other waste and recycling facilities may accept these products throughout the year as well.
Ag plastics are here to stay yet it is evident that there is a great need for more options for recycling the plastics commonly used on the farm. Participating in recycling programs when available and expressing support for these types of programs can help expand options throughout Wisconsin. Likewise, properly disposing of ag plastics and adhering to recycling program rules can ensure that these options remain available.
Melissa Kono is an Associate Professor, Community Resource Development with the University of Wisconsin-Madison Division of Extension