Recycling plastic grain bags just got a whole lot easier

For many Saskatchewan farmers, the easiest way to deal with used grain bags is the illegal way — with a can of gas and a book of matches on a moonlit night.

But Travis Quirk thinks most farmers would use alternative disposal methods if they were available.

Quirk, the agricultural plastics recycling co-ordinator with Saskatchewan’s Provincial Council of Agriculture Development and Diversification Boards (PCAB), said farmers want to do the right thing.

For proof, he points to a PCAB pilot project that has collected nearly 300,000 kilograms of used grain bag plastic over the past two years.

The pilot project established about a dozen regional collection sites where farmers can deliver used grain bag plastic for free.

Each collection site is managed by a regional co-ordinator and has a trailer-mounted, hydraulic grain bag roller that farmers can sign out rent-free.

Producers roll the bags and deliver the plastic to collection sites.

When inventories are large enough, the bags are loaded onto trucks and transported to recycling companies that process the high-grade plastic into recycled plastic pellets.

The pellets, which look similar to a large lentil, are sold to manufacturers and used in plastic products.

“The plastic itself is desirable,” said Quirk.

“It’s a large amount of plastic. It’s a high-quality plastic and it’s fairly clean ,” he said.

“It’s a pretty easy product for recycling companies to handle.”

The PCAB project began in the spring of 2011 and concludes next March, although Quirk is optimistic PCAB will remain involved in grain bag recycling after the province imposes a mandatory grain bag recycling program beginning next April.

Administering the program costs $105,000 a year, which the province has covered.

PCAB invested $50,000 to buy trailers and bag rollers.

Some recyclers will pay $100 a tonne for used grain bag plastic, but collection and shipping costs make it hard to sell used bags at a profit.

Producers near Unity, Sask., have proved that farmers will recycle their grain bag plastic if they have the opportunity.

The PCAB collection site at Unity has collected 700 to 800 bags since it was established two years ago.

“Unity has got a very strong program,” Quirk said.

“Probably about 40 percent of all the plastic that we’ve collected in the program so far has come from that one site alone. They got the word out to a lot of farmers and they had good uptake right away.”

Jarrett Lewin, a grain grower from the Unity area, said the pilot program has worked well.

Lewin, who lives 30 kilometres from the collection site, tries to book the PCAB roller every time he removes grain from a grain bag.

The plastic should be rolled immediately to avoid snow and ice buildup and eliminate pest problems.

Lewin stores the rolled bags at his farm until he has enough material to justify a trip to the regional collection site.

The roller’s availability can be an issue.

In some cases, dozens of farmers are hauling grain at the same time and demand for the roller is high.

Some farmers buy their own rollers. Lewin is planning to build one, when he finds time.

He said more farmers would be willing to roll their bags if there was a financial incentive.

“For me, I try to do it as a stewardship thing. It’s part of the cost of doing business,” he said.

“But I have talked to farmers who say, ‘if they’re not paying you anything for it, why bother doing it?’ Personally, I would be willing to pay an environmental fee, as long as there’s a return on it.”

A refundable environmental fee, similar to what exists for pop cans, would likely result in more recycled plastic, he said.

However, a refund system would also add costs to collection.

For starters, each site collection would likely require a weigh scale to ensure that refunds were paid accurately.

Summer-only deliveries could address weight discrepancies related to ice and snow buildup in the plastic.

Recycling plastic grain bags just got a whole lot easier Agriculture Innovation  Saskatchewan Environment   via The Western Producer

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