Plastic chemical container recycling program on track

Producers returned more than 5.5 million plastic chemical and fertilizer containers last year. | File photo

Canadian farmers and ranchers returned more than 5.5 million plastic-based chemical and fertilizer jugs for recycling in 2020, roughly matching the number of returns made in 2019.

The figure was contained in a 2020 annual report prepared by Cleanfarms, a non-profit environmental stewardship organization focused on managing and recycling agricultural waste products such as chemical jugs, used baler twine and used grain bags.

To date, more than 137 million empty chemical jugs with capacities of 23 litres or less have now been recovered for recycling in Canada since an empty pesticide container recycling program was established 31 years ago, the organization said.

Placed end to end, the recovered containers would stretch around the world at the equator 1.3 times. Plastic from the containers is used to make a variety of new products, including farm drainage tiles.

“Our goal is to help farmers reduce the amount of waste generated behind the farmgate, and to offer programs that help farmers fuel the circular economy by recycling instead of having to landfill these materials,” said the organization’s executive director, Barry Friesen.

Canada’s small jug recycling program was established in 1989 when pesticide manufacturers launched a voluntary collection program in Alberta.

In 2010, Cleanfarms was established to take over the program and assist with other waste management issues in the Canadian agriculture industry.

The organization now has 15 employees and runs programs and collection sites across the country.

Cleanfarms staff members are based in Quebec, Ontario, Saskatchewan and Alberta. The number of member organizations that support Cleanfarms programming exceeds 75.

In recent years, the use of grain bags has expanded significantly as growers look for affordable temporary storage solutions for cereal grains.

In Saskatchewan, the amount of returned grain bag plastic has doubled to 2,536 tonnes since inception of the province’s government regulated program in 2018, Cleanfarms reported.

The combination of grain bags, baler twine and other plastic-based ag-films collected in Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta has now surpassed 6,900 tonnes since Cleanfarms began collecting the materials in regional or provincial pilot projects.

Cleanfarms has also launched programs that collect unwanted pesticides and unused or outdated veterinary medications at drop-off sites across the country.

In 2020, farmers in southern Saskatchewan, Quebec and Prince Edward Island, as well as British Columbia’s Fraser Valley and Vancouver Island, delivered more than 298,000 kilograms of unwanted pesticides and 3,380 kg of obsolete veterinary medications.

Pilot projects focused on collecting grain bags, bale and silage wrap and baler twine in Alberta, Manitoba and Quebec have also been established.

The information gathered in the pilot projects will be used to develop Cleanfarms programming for other regions across Canada.

In its 2020 annual report, Cleanfarms said small container return rates continue to increase.

In 2019, producers returned 71 percent of jugs with capacities of 23 litres or less, up from the previous average of 65 percent.

Compared to 2019, producers also returned 12 percent more large containers, totes and drums in 2020 with capacities between 23 litres and 1,000 litres.

Volumes in Saskatchewan’s 2020 grain bag recycling program were up 12.4 percent on a year-over-year basis and Alberta’s Ag Plastic recycling program expanded its collection sites for grain bags and baler twine to 32 locations from 28.

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