Getting started – silage plastic recycling

Author: Tammy Shields, Cleanfarms Saskatchewan Program Advisor

My friends and family know that if they want to get something started, I’m the person to talk to.

Whether it is a milestone birthday or making sure a yearly gathering takes place, I can make sure it happens.

The same goes with ag plastics recycling. I helped set up one of the very first grain bag recycling micro-pilots in the Town of Milestone in 2010. (I remember that same year, my youngest daughter was only 4 years old. This summer… she is graduating high school!)

I’m glad that I can continue ‘starting’ when it comes to silage plastics as well… and I was excited to be invited onto two farms this past summer with beef and dairy producers in Turtleford and Summerberry.

Both farms were searching out better ways to manage the plastics that help protect the feed for their animals all year long. They didn’t want this material to go to landfill.

This is where Cleanfarms comes in.

I was able to borrow from the silage plastic recycling work that my colleagues to the west and east of Saskatchewan are developing. Our team is always seeking creative ways to help farmers, with the goal of developing a solution that works for individual communities/farms, tweaking it and seeing how we can improve it based on additional farmer feedback.

This past summer, with funding from our Building a Zero-Plastic-Waste Strategy for Agriculture* project, I helped two farms (one in Tuttleford and one in Summerberry) get started with silage/bale wrap recycling some of the plastics that had accumulated on the farm over several years.

The end result was 44,556 kilograms of bale wrap and silage plastic sent to a recycler and two family farms with the knowledge and know how to store plastics for eventual recycling.

Here were my key takeaways from these visits:

  • Separation, which is so important for the recycling process, is intuitive for farmers. Farmers naturally separate their commodities (whether it is peas, lentils or grains) to get it to market. They seem to know that separating plastics (bale wrap in one area & silage tarps in another) is key to making sure that plastics are recycled instead of landfilled when programs become available.
  • Resourcing/tools are becoming easier to source – We’ve got contractors that are more and more familiar with handling ag plastics, they have mobile loading docks and tools like mobile compactors that make the compaction, consolidation and handling part of the process much easier. And end markets are slowly, but surely developing. I was able to send these materials over to Alberta for recycling.

But the most important takeaway is that it is never too late to start. I’m known for saying ‘start by recycling a Ziploc bag full of twine.’ At the beginning of a project, my philosophy is the thought process (separate, store properly, keep contamination low) needs to be understood and adapted to individual farm operations that work for them, and then the volumes come at a later date.

I’m looking forward to many more starts. The conversations I have every day confirm that farmers prefer recycling over other options for the materials they are managing on their farm operations and are willing to be involved in the development process.

Tammy Shields is Cleanfarms’ Saskatchewan Program Advisor. She can be reached at 306-341-4460, shieldst@cleanfarms.ca

* 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.