Farming has role in recycling’s future

Farmers earn their living from the land and make sure their fields and farms remain healthy, well-managed and free from litter and waste.

This is an investment that benefits all of Canada, given the importance of our agricultural industry to feed our country and the world.

Some of the necessary waste materials farmers are left to manage include traditional bags, grain bags, silage wrap, netting, and twine made of plastic.

Over the years, farmers have stepped up their efforts — working with municipal and retail collection partners — to properly manage this material through recycling and safe disposal.

This commitment to eliminate plastic waste from our environment is shared between all Canadians, who are doing their part to recycle. With a renewed focus on programs that shift the cost of recycling from municipalities back to plastic producers and users, I believe we can eliminate waste from our environment without sacrificing the plastics that so many of us rely on.

Fortunately, on-farm recycling is expanding in Canada.

I work with Cleanfarms, an industry-funded, not-for profit organization that operates programs on behalf of the agricultural industry to manage waste materials from crop inputs, crop storage and animal health products.

We operate throughout the country to collect plastic pesticide and fertilizer jugs and containers, among other items, for recycling.

In our largest nationwide program for pesticide and fertilizer jugs (23 litres and under), farmers returned nearly 5.5 million containers in 2019. Since this program started 30 years ago, Cleanfarms has collected more than 131.5 million jugs.

We operate a system on behalf of the 70 companies that manufacture and sell agricultural products. These companies provide funding to make sure the waste materials from their products and packages are kept out of the environment using what’s known as an “Extended Producer Responsibility” approach.

Farmers bring agricultural containers and other items to Cleanfarms collection sites, knowing they will be managed responsibly, either through recycling or safe disposal.

The success of these programs points to the power of implementing collaborative programs to manage plastics and incentivize Canadians to adopt a zero-waste outlook.

Additionally, at Cleanfarms, we are focused on transforming more recycled goods into new plastic products farmers can use. As new products become more widely used, they call for new management approaches.

In 2018, with our partners we rolled out a new grain bag recycling program in Saskatchewan, which is the only government-regulated Extended Producer Responsibility program of its kind in Canada.

In 2019, this program helped farmers in the province recycle 2,256 tonnes of used plastic grain bags, a 44 percent increase over 2018.

Ag waste materials such as grain bags, agricultural plastic containers and bulk plastic containers are turned into such items as farm drainage tile and plastic bags.

By recognizing waste materials as a valuable resource, we can eliminate plastic waste from the environment and create new jobs in recycling while helping farmers.

Saskatchewan’s grain bag recycling program has been an overwhelming success, and we’ve launched similar pilots in Manitoba and Alberta in partnership with local provincial governments.

Cleanfarms intends to transition the Manitoba government-funded agricultural plastics pilot projects into a permanent, industry-funded stewardship program in 2021.

The results speak for themselves. Canadian farmers, retailers, collectors and recyclers consistently demonstrate their commitment to the environment by participating in programs to help reduce waste and promote sustainability in agriculture.

Collaboration between government and industry is an important key to these effective waste management programs and I’m proud to work in an industry that offers opportunities for this industry to contribute to ag-plastics producer responsibility programs and innovate advanced recycling technologies.

Barry Friesen PEng is the executive director of Cleanfarms.

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