Alta. to fund recycling program for ag plastic

The Alberta government is moving forward on a plan to help producers recycle farm plastics.

Though details are slim, the plan is expected to come in the form of a three-year pilot project at a cost of $700,000.

“We have all this agriculture plastic waste out there on the landscape and Alberta doesn’t have a system to help municipalities get it off the landscape,” said Environment and Parks Minister Shannon Phillips, following the announcement of the project last week at the Rural Municipalities of Alberta fall convention.

A working group consisting of plastic industry representatives, municipal officials and producers has been in place for years to figure out how Alberta could address this issue.

Even though most producers would like to recycle their farming plastics, many of them are burning or burying the materials because there is nowhere close to drop them off for recycling.

As well, despite some municipalities having their own programs, it has proven to be costly. The programs see them collect waste and ship it to recyclers.

“Most of it is the cost of transporting it,” said Assar Grinde, who sits on the agriculture plastics working group and is a director with Alberta Beef Producers.

Saskatchewan has had some form of agriculture plastic recycling program since 2011. It began as a pilot project but is now a full program with provincial regulations.

The program, administered by Cleanfarms, allows producers to go to various locations to drop off their plastic debris. Only grain bags and silage bags used to store grain are accepted. The bags must be rolled tightly and secured with twine.

Any unrolled bags, silage bags not used for grain, twine or netting, bale or net wrap, silage tarps, or feed or seed bags aren’t accepted. As well, excessively dirty or loose bags might be rejected and subjected to a landfill fee.

Producers in Saskatchewan pay an environmental fee of 25 cents per kilogram of grain bag they buy. The funds go toward the collection, transportation and recycling of the bags.

“Saskatchewan is a great model to look at,” said Tammy Schwass, executive director of the Alberta Plastics Recycling Association.

Schwass, who is also part of the working group, said she expects the Alberta pilot project will help the province work out any kinks before it becomes permanent.

She anticipates producers won’t initially be charged an environmental fee. That way, it’ll help collectors get an idea of how much plastic that producers need recycled.

“One of the key factors in this is to have multiple collection points and give access to those remote areas so we can see how the logistics will work,” she said. “It’s exciting to see the government put attention to this.”

As for recyclers, Schwass said there is only one plant in Alberta that will do grain bags. Twine and other types, she said, is mostly being sent to the United States.

Agriculture Minister Oneil Carlier said he expects the pilot project will work well with the Canadian Agricultural Partnership grant program. Currently, producers in Alberta can apply for a grant to purchase plastic bag rollers. The rollers compact the material, essentially making it recyclable.

“We’re hearing from municipalities about what more they can do. They want to do something,” he said.

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