Cages from intermediate bulk containers open opportunities for moving ag plastics in Northern BC

Author: Enzo Casal, Consultant from Vio Sustainability coordinating Cleanfarms’ BC Ag Plastic Collection program

I landed in Prince George on a chilly October night in 2023 to start my first ever trip to the region. The plan was to visit as many transfer stations participating in the BC agricultural plastic collection pilot as possible. I joined the team to coordinate the program in early July where I worked remotely from my home in Vancouver, but there’s nothing like seeing a program run with your own eyes to really understand how it operates and that’s what had me so excited for this opportunity. I had the chance to meet the contractors, staff at the regional districts, and the farmers that make this program work.

Handling waste management in Northern BC comes with its own unique challenges. It’s a large area and the population is spread out meaning that the garbage and recyclables are too. Across the Regional District of Bulkley-Nechako, we have six transfer stations and landfills collecting ag plastics like bale wrap, twine, and silage film from farmers in the region*. The farmers are given bags to put their used ag plastic in and drop them off at the sites. Our logistics partner then drives to each site and loads the bags by hand onto their trucks. Likewise, at the drop off site, they unload them by hand. These bags can weigh anywhere from 15 to 30 kg!

Loading takes so long that they needed to send two people every trip to get the job done. As the old saying goes, “time is money,” and that’s twice as true when there’s two people. It was also tough on our partner to secure two people per trip which could delay service and result in sites filling up. On the other end, when we visited our baling contractor, they mentioned that handling the bags was tedious. They move them from one end of the warehouse to the other for processing, which is time-consuming, even when using forklifts.

This is where some out of the box thinking came in. A partner in Alberta had a surplus of intermediate tanks that they didn’t know what to do with and were likely destined to be recycled. These IBC tanks are plastic containers in a metal frame that can be lifted and moved just like a pallet. By removing the plastic container, we are left with a metal cage which can be perfect for holding bags of ag plastic. Not only that, but each collection site already has a piece of equipment that can pick up the cages and load them directly onto a truck.

I stopped off at the Smithers-Telkwa Transfer Site where we had stationed our first batch of these cages for a trial run. During a meeting with the regional district manager, she mentioned the site would be ready to schedule a pick-up to test out the cages. The cages were neatly organized with several full of bags of collected plastic loaded and ready to go. I scheduled a pick-up run with our contractor and explained our trial run with the cages. The trip happened without a hitch and the feedback was so positive we immediately ordered more!

Today, five of our six sites in the Bulkley-Nechako Regional District use the cages and trips have been easier to schedule because they only need one person. Additionally, we’ve also seen a shorter time spent on site per visit. The other contractors have also told us that it is making their operations a lot smoother, and they’ve incorporated the cages into their processes. While recycling is never straightforward, listening to the needs of different stakeholders and trying new yet simple solutions is all that’s needed in some cases. This test did take a lot of coordination, and the trip to the regional district was well worth it to connect with the people who had first-hand experience with the challenges and day-to-day operations.

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.