Pilot program examines ways to collect, recycle farm waste


Information gathered | CleanFarms stewardship organization is working with grain bag manufacturers to design a collection program

Saskatchewan farmers may soon be able to dispose of their plastic waste in more environmentally sustainable ways.


A pilot program for farm waste now underway is scheduled to end April 2014. 


It is one of several pilot programs on the Prairies that will study how to best collect, recycle and reuse plastic waste used on farms.


“It’s a waste of resources and really it’s a waste of jobs because people can recycle and reuse these materials,” said Barry Friesen, general manager of CleanFarms, a non-profit industry stewardship organization.


“That’s what CleanFarms is all about. To take these materials that in the past had no home and to provide new uses for them.”


The organization operates a national empty pesticide and fertilizer container collection program and an obsolete pesticide collection campaign.


A recent study found that farmers in British Columbia dispose of 5,500 tonnes of packaging waste a year.  As well, 32,000 tonnes of packaging used to transport farm products to retail stores and households leaves B.C. farms annually.


“The study shows there are a lot of different types of waste on farms, like plastic and cardboard, that needs programs that will allow farmers to recycle those products,” said Friesen. 


“We know through our existing programs that farmers are willing to participate in stewardship schemes. Now we have the information we need to develop new programs to benefit farmers and the environment.”


Like the B.C. study, Friesen said the first step in other provinces is to find out how much waste is on farms and how best to collect and recycle it. 


Leading the list of waste on the Prairies are the plastic field bags that farmers use to store their grain, bale wrap that producers use to cover their hay, twine and netting.


Friesen said it is difficult to determine the amount of plastic waste until studies are completed or updated. This is particularly the case with grain bags, which are a relatively new technology. 


“Less than 10 years of usage and as farms change their equipment and get bigger, we’re going to see an increase in plastic being used.”


The Saskatchewan environment ministry is funding a grain bag and twine recycling pilot program in Moose Jaw. 


CleanFarms has been asked to work with the manufacturers of these products to see if a stewardship program is possible similar to the successful collection of pesticide containers. 


Friesen gives high marks to farmers for this particular success. 


“A very high percentage of them want to do the right thing. We collect 66 percent of all pesticide containers and it’s a voluntary program in almost every province. I think that’s a testament to the fact that they’ll do the right thing if given the tools to do the job.”


He predicted that governments will eventually force manufacturers to consider recycling, particularly with plastic grain bags.


“In many provinces now, managing the end of life of a product is the manufacturer’s responsibility,” he said. “He will be looking to manufacturers and importers of these products to work on their behalf to recycle these things in the most cost effective and environmental way.”