We hear you: Canadian farmers want to recycle more!

Kim is Cleanfarms’ Manager of Stakeholder Relations. She can be reached at 416 622 4460 x 2229, timmerk@cleanfarms.ca

Author: Kim Timmer, Cleanfarms

Municipalities are important partners for Cleanfarms.

This is one of the reasons the Federation of Canadian Municipalities’ (FCM) Annual Conference & Trade Show is always in my calendar. This event allows us to efficiently check in with those who help deliver a number of our recycling programs and also see the direct benefits of program participation like landfill diversion and cleaner communities.

Now that national and global plastic recycling stories are in the news regularly and themes like circular economy are gaining traction, I had some really interesting conversations at this year’s event.

Delegates told me ‘I’m so glad our farmers can recycle pesticide and fertilizer containers, but why doesn’t Cleanfarms collect bale wrap? The answer is a long one and it sheds some light on some of the complexities involved in program development.

Here are some of the questions our team considers when we are asked to look into recycling a new product:

Recycling markets – do they currently exist?

‘We aren’t creating a pile for the sake of creating a pile.’ This is a simple yet effective statement that I’ve heard, and used, time and again.

At Cleanfarms, we don’t consider any item to be recycled until it makes its way into a new product. For example, after collection, plastic recovered through our container recycling program is shredded, processed and turned into plastic flake. The flake is used to manufacture new products like farm drainage tile. This meets our definition of recycling and creates a valuable product that’s used back on the farm, which makes it even better.

When it comes to recycling markets for commodities like plastic, it’s a delicate balance. We need to generate a sufficient volume of the commodity to develop end markets. At the same time, we need to take a structured and methodological approach to make sure that technology exists to recycle materials collected and there’s demand from industry to turn them into new products. This is where pilots and a lot of foundational, behind the scenes studies come into play.

Is there a desire to recycle?

Luckily the answer to this question is a lot simpler; it’s a consistent yes. I heard this from countless municipal delegates at the FCM event and we get calls from concerned farmers on a daily basis. Our 2018 Annual Report features additional champions who are supporting change.

Canadian farmers, and their communities prefer a recycling or end of life stewardship option for items like mineral tubs, silage/bale wrap and feed bags. Landfilling or on farm stockpiling aren’t the preferred options.

A farmer once told me that while empty mineral tubs make great plant pots, her front yard was starting to be overwhelmed with geraniums. This is why recycling programs are important, even for items that might get a second use on the farm.

Cleanfarms has interesting initiatives in the pipeline aimed at enabling municipalities and farmers to recycle additional plastics and support a more circular economy. And, our team is keen to build on the momentum that currently exists. But we do it carefully. We work with farmers, collection site partners, recyclers and many others to be as sure as we can that when we bring on a new program, it will succeed. Watch for more information on our website, www.cleanfarms.ca, and at next year’s FCM conference.

Cleanfarms, Canada’s leading agricultural stewardship organization, is best known for its empty container recycling program and unwanted pesticide and old livestock medication collection campaign. Find out about the programs that Cleanfarms offers in each province here: cleanfarms.ca/programs-at-a-glance/.