Building momentum in Bruce County

Author: Lyndsay D’Entremont, Cleanfarms Eastern Coordinator

Bruce County is located in Southwestern Ontario, nestled between both Lake Huron and Georgian Bay. The area has deep roots in agriculture and a high concentration of livestock operations, making it the perfect fit for a pilot project* with Cleanfarms.

I’ve had the pleasure of working collaboratively with farmers and municipalities to divert on-farm plastics (twine, bale wrap and silage tarps & covers) from local landfills since 2022. I built on the success of colleagues who overcame many hurdles in the beginning. A lot of work and dedication was put into securing and setting up collection sites at local landfills, procuring equipment, and finding those special service providers who could accommodate a very niche scope of work.

The current project is set up as a dual-option approach for farmers, where bagged materials can be delivered to one of seven municipal collection sites in Bruce County. Bagged materials are subsequently collected and diverted to an energy recovery facility. Cleanfarms has also distributed several on-farm compaction units to farmers to create bales of film plastics (directly on the farm) which are sent directly to an Ontario recycler.

The collection figures show that all of this hard work paid off. In 2021, 9,944kgs of plastics were diverted from landfills in the first year of collections. As program awareness grew and as the need was solidified, 43,800 kgs were collected in 2022. Last year, the program continued to gain traction and immense support from users, and 110,107kgs were collected in 2023.

These numbers show the significance of establishing and maintaining a recovery program for bale and silage plastics. Having worked with landfills in a previous role, I know firsthand that these are problematic materials. Due to their length and stretchability, they can get caught up in heavy equipment which requires additional staff time and costs to rectify, and can also take up a significant amount of space in a landfill which is challenging for many municipalities with limited or dwindling landfill capacity.

While visiting Bruce County, I witnessed firsthand farmers coming into collection sites with bags full of materials and happily unloading them into the designated bunkers. When asked what they thought about the program, it was all positive. Farmers have enjoyed the accessibility and fully support the ability to divert these plastics where possible. They appreciate the ease and convenience of dropping their full bags off at collection sites, knowing the plastics were not destined for landfill. However, while the bagged option accommodated a wide variety of users, baling the plastics is more efficient behind the scenes for both logistics and cost-savings.

A hybrid approach where both bagged and baled models are combined seems to be the natural next step. Cleanfarms and Bruce County are exploring ways to maximize the knowledge we’ve developed and the tools that are presently on the ground. While this plan is still in the works, we are happy to see the commitment from both farmers and municipalities to keep striving towards the zero-plastic-waste goal.

The Bruce County Pilot Project has taught me a lot about the resilience, dedication, and determination of the agricultural, municipal, and waste sectors. Aligning the realms of on-farm practices and waste management skills can help ensure a healthier environment and protect the very lands that we all depend on. Looking back on all we’ve learned from this project, I am happy to be a small part of the bigger picture of fostering a sustainable future for agriculture.

* This project is funded in part by the Government of Canada through Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada’s Canadian Agricultural Strategic Priorities Program (CASPP), a $50.3 million, five-year investment to help the agricultural sector adapt and remain competitive. The funding ends on March 31st, 2024.