MOOSE JAW, SK – Cleanfarms has reached a significant four-year milestone in the development and operation of the Saskatchewan Grain Bag Collection Program. Under the program, Cleanfarms collects used agricultural grain bags in the province and ensures the plastic is recycled through a network of domestic end-markets to make new products such as industrial garbage bag and construction sheeting.
Helping to support and expand domestic markets for used grain bags is one of Cleanfarms’ most important accomplishments for the Saskatchewan program, says Cleanfarms Executive Director Barry Friesen.
“This program ensures that collected plastic, which is still viable after it’s used for grain bags, gets recirculated in Canada’s emerging circular economy, rather than filling up Saskatchewan landfills,” Friesen points out. “That’s a major accomplishment.”
Since Cleanfarms launched the Saskatchewan Grain Bag Collection Program in 2018 under a government-regulated approved plan , Cleanfarms has shipped about 8,500  tonnes of grain bag plastic for recycling. In 2020, 60% of the grain bags sold were returned for recycling.
Saskatchewan farmers/growers are significant users of grain bags to store grain at harvest. According to a Cleanfarms study that documented the generation of used plastic on Canadian farms, Saskatchewan growers use about 4,000  tonnes of grain bags annually, more than farmers in any other province. While pilot collection programs for grain bags started in the province beginning in 2010, the benefits provided by these early start-ups were localized. However, the majority of grain bag plastic used in the province ended up piled in farm fields or in landfills. For that reason, many Saskatchewan municipalities were strong proponents of a regulated collection and recycling program for the plastic.
“At present there are no recycling plants for grain bag plastic in the province but Cleanfarms, which supports development of domestic markets, ships the majority of material to recycling facilities in Alberta, with a small amount shipped to a US-based recycler. Using domestic (Canadian) markets means that Cleanfarms can more easily track and monitor how the material is processed so that health and safety procedures are followed, ensure costs are reduced, and support local Western Canadian businesses.
Another four-year milestone is that Cleanfarms has now assembled sufficient, consistent collection data that can be used to introduce greater efficiencies into the program. One example of an improved system is the recent release of a request for proposal. It seeks the services of a local contractor to manage the loading and transportation of rolled grain bags collected at Cleanfarms collection sites throughout the province under a 5-year services agreement.
“Previously, we arranged for this job to be done by calling in transporters on an ‘as needed’ basis. As we accumulated operational data, we were able to make sound predictions on how the collection program would operate, even with fluctuations in harvest and weather which affects the number of grain bags sold and used in the province,” says Friesen. He points to the weather in 2021 as a prime example of the impact on the sale of grain bags in the Prairies.
“Some harvest seasons, you see grain bags everywhere in the rural setting. In other years, like last year, the number of grain bags on the fields was much lower. That means we’ll get fewer grain bags into the system to be recycled. Those are factors that a transportation service provider will take into consideration” he notes.
Cleanfarms says the longer term contract for loading and transporting grain bags will not only improve program efficiencies, it will also provide an opportunity for a company to have predictability in a longer term contract.
The number of collection sites that are now available throughout the province is another example of the growth and increasing stability of the program. Because Cleanfarms has extensive experience designing and operating safe collection programs for a wide range of used ag materials from empty plastic pesticide and fertilizer jugs, totes and drums to unwanted or old pesticides and obsolete animal health medications, it has gained extensive experience and expertise in designing, operating and managing ag waste recovery programs.
“When we launched Saskatchewan’s permanent, province-wide program under the government regulation in 2018, we started with 16 collection sites. Four years later we have 45 for grain bags. That’s 45 locations in the province where Cleanfarms is supporting business activity and work hours, contributing directly to the local economy,” Friesen says, “and that adds up in dollars.”
“In the past four years alone, Cleanfarms has invested $2 million in local economies in the province with just the grain bag program. But that’s the tip of the iceberg. Over the past 10 years, considering the five permanent programs and numerous recycling collection pilots that we’ve operated here, we’ve invested close to $50 million in supporting Saskatchewan’s small businesses,” he adds. “That’s evidence that we take seriously our responsibility to be a good corporate citizen under our registration to operate as a not-for-profit in Saskatchewan.”
To ensure that Cleanfarms has feet on the ground in Saskatchewan, it has a full time western project coordinator located in Moose Jaw.
“Tammy Shields is well-known and highly respected in ag circles in the province. She has a vast knowledge of grain bag recycling…in fact, she started one of the first grain bag recycling micro-pilots in the province in 2010 in Milestone. We consider ourselves to be very lucky and well served to have her as part of our Prairie team,” Friesen says.
Cleanfarms, Friesen adds, is well positioned to move into the next phase of grain bag recycling in Saskatchewan. We will continue to promote the program to encourage growers to return grain bags for recycling and we’ll continue to look for opportunities to add improved accessibility for growers.
“Every grain bag recycled gets us closer to our goal of zero plastic ag waste to landfill,” Friesen says.
Cleanfarms is a leader in providing environmentally-responsible programs to farmers/growers to help them manage used ag plastic materials and other ag packaging when they are no longer useful on the farm. This leadership is unmatched in Canada and recognized world-wide. Cleanfarms is funded by its more than 75 members in the crop protection, fertilizer, seed, animal health medication and grain bag industries.
Contact: Barbara McConnell, Cleanfarms Media
 Grain bag suppliers can meet their regulatory obligations under Saskatchewan’s Agricultural Packaging Product Waste Stewardship Regulation through Cleanfarms’ grain bag collection and recycling program.