Alberta project finds new use for ag plastic

Hutterite colony will use collected grain bags and twine to make garbage bags and pellets for making automotive parts

EDMONTON — Plastic grain and silage bags, twine and containers seemed like a good idea once, but now they are creating a mountain of a problem.

Starting this fall there will be 20 collection points in Alberta accepting grain bags and twine as part of a three-year, $1 million recycling pilot project.

Clean Farms Inc., a non-profit company that handles pesticide containers, will be the program operators, said Rich Smith, manager of Alberta Beef Producers.

The plastic is destined for a Hutterite colony that has partnered with a recycler to manufacture garbage bags from used grain bags. The twine can be shredded and pelletized to make automotive parts.

About 45 percent of the plastic pile is twine and that can be turned into a new product, said Tammy Schwass, executive director of the Alberta Plastics Recycling Association.

“One of the biggest challenges was discovered in 2012 from an Alberta Agriculture survey that the majority of producers were dealing with their plastics by burning it. It is actually illegal to burn any plastics on farm,” she said at the beef producers spring meeting held in Edmonton June 10-11.

The pilot project was spurred by the agricultural plastic recycling group that includes membership from commodity groups, municipalities and retailers.

The group was formed in 2017 and submitted the pilot proposal to government last year.

Some municipalities have collected agriculture plastics in the past.

“The challenge is some of them are collecting and they have a stockpile but some are collecting and moving that material to market,” she said.

Net wrap and silage bags may be harder to recycle. Net wrap is a mixed plastic and can’t be mechanically recycled so it might be burned for energy. Silage bags tend to retain a smell so more work is needed to find new uses for them.

There will have to be some sort of paid program in the future that may involve an environmental fee on plastics, Schwass said.

Other provinces are dealing with similar problems.

The British Columbia Cattlemen’s Association has looked at the problem to recycle twine and bulk bags, said Renee Ardill, chair of the environmental stewardship committee.

A mattress company in Hope, B.C., burns plastics for energy but getting the material there from remote areas may not be practical.

“There are a lot of ag sectors that use plastic besides us and hopefully we can find some solutions for getting rid of some of this stuff,” she said.

The question has been turned over to the B.C Agriculture Council.

Clean Farms deals with plastic containers and in its 2018 annual report it said farmers returned 5.8 million empty containers of 23 litres or smaller. This is a 14 percent improvement over 2017. These have been made into products like drainage tiles.

The company also collected bags, and in Eastern Canada returns were 22 percent higher. Quebec was the greatest participant with farmers bringing in 194,000 kilograms of plastic compared to 110,000 kg in 2017.

The company is testing plastic bag collection in Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta this year.

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