WHEREAS agricultural plastics such as grain bags, silage tarps or hay bags are becoming a problem throughout Alberta, littering the fence lines of many properties and causing unsightliness in many communities; and
WHEREAS municipalities have recognized that there is a problem, however, there is only one known location where recycling agricultural plastic takes place and the cost to transport the plastics to the southern Alberta site makes recycling in northern Alberta cost prohibitive; and
WHEREAS disposing of the polypropylene products by burning is prohibited; and
WHEREAS municipalities are willing to work with the provincial government to partner in a solution that would assist local producers to recycle their agricultural products by providing sites to use as collection places, however, trucking of the product to the recycle facility is costly;
THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED that the Alberta Association of Municipal Districts and Counties request the Provincial Government to develop recycle programs for the agriculture industry for the recycling of agricultural plastics.
Creating a recycling system for all agricultural plastic was first driven by the switch from sisal to twine for bales, then to plastic silage tarps, plastic bale bags and more recently grain bags.
It’s estimated 4,300 to 5,000 tonnes of polypropylene twine and cord were sold in Alberta in 2007 and 3,000 to 4,000 tonnes of polyethylene material like silage bags and covers. The amount of polyethylene material is expected to increase dramatically with the popularity of grain bags. The bags grew in popularity quickly over the past five years for a number of reasons, not the least of which include they’re cheaper than traditional bins, save fuel costs for farmers, and farmers can often store damp grain in them. The material, more than nine mils thick and nearly indestructible, was unlike any other plastic seen. Bags also block UV rays, fungus growth and hungry wildlife looking for an easy snack and protect grain for as long as 18 months in the field.
The Alberta Plastics Recycling Association formed the Alberta Plastics Working Group in 2010 to find the best way to recycle agricultural plastics. A half dozen collection sites were established to get an understanding of the amount, type and quality of material involved and if there was a market for it. The pilot project also brought in plastic from British Columbia’s fruit growing region.
Association executive director Grant Cameron said one of the biggest obstacles was trucking the plastic to the recycling plant in southern Alberta.
“It’s very bulky. When you buy it, it’s nicely rolled up from the factory. Once they are used, they’re crumpled and misshapen and hard to get rolled.”
There currently exists a company in Hussar in southern Alberta that has a recycle plant for plastics such as grain bags, silage tarps, bale bags and twine. This company pays $150 per tonne for the plastic, however, people who are recycling the plastic have to truck the product to southern Alberta. The product must be free of organic materials. This grain bag industry is growing very quickly due to the cost efficiency of the bags, however, the product that is left behind is causing a lot of problems with the environment and with the aesthetics of many communities. Grain bags are littering many farms and acreages across Alberta. In Saskatchewan, the government contributed $160,000 to a provincial pilot project to get the collection system going.
The operation in southern Alberta is the only one in Alberta that we are aware of that takes these recycled plastics. The challenge is that the cost of trucking this material far exceeds the value that the recycling facility will pay for the material. Our view is that the province should create some form of deposit and collection system that will encourage the recycling of these products. In reality the deposit could be large enough so that it would encourage a high level of recycling. A provincial collection and disposal system like pesticide containers would also be very effective.
At the 2012, Alberta Agricultural Services Boards conference a resolution was passed requesting the Provincial Government to establish a program to recycle agricultural plastics similar to the Empty Pesticide Container Recycling Program.
The Government response was that both Alberta Agriculture and Rural Development (ARD) and Alberta Environment and Water (AEW) recognize that agricultural plastic use is increasing, especially grain bags, and concern over managing it as waste is rising in Alberta. Both ministries are working jointly to scope the issue and collect data on how agricultural plastics are managed in Alberta to help inform future policy options on the issue. A preferred model or approach to waste management has not been identified and both departments agree that more Alberta-specific data is needed before any recommendations are made. ARD is funding the cost of two surveys to collect data, which will be completed by fall 2012, targeting agricultural producers and municipal waste authorities. It is too soon to tell if the Empty Pesticide Container Recycling Program is the best option for Alberta. Alberta’s program for pesticide containers is a voluntary initiative funded by industry and managed by CleanFarms. Although ARD is independently working with various municipalities to coordinate agricultural plastic roundup days to educate producers about the processes of preparing plastics for recycling more must be done to develop programs requiring the recycling of this product.
The AAMDC has no active resolutions directly related to this issue.
Agriculture and Rural Development:
Agriculture and Rural Development (ARD) has been working with Environment and Sustainable Resource Development (ESRD) to scope this issue. Two surveys, which sampled agricultural producers and municipal waste authorities, were completed to determine the total amount of waste agricultural plastics generated, and how it is managed at end-of-life in Alberta. The survey reports will be available for public release in the near future.
The survey results are currently being analyzed, and the data we have received will help inform potential policy options around the issue. We are assessing a number of different approaches to waste management of agricultural plastics, and do not currently have a preferred model or approach. In the interim, ARD is exploring opportunities to work with municipalities to provide education and extension services to agricultural producers about managing and disposing of their waste agricultural plastics.
Environment and Sustainable Resource Development:
Environment and Sustainable Resource Development has been working with Alberta Agriculture and Rural Development to scope the issue of waste management of agricultural plastics in Alberta. Both ministries recognize that waste management and recycling of agricultural plastics is an important issue to the members of the Alberta Association of Municipal Districts and Counties (AAMDC).
Minister McQueen updated AAMDC members at their fall convention on November 13, 2012 as to the Government of Alberta’s progress on scoping the issue. Two surveys, which sampled agricultural producers and municipal waste authorities, were completed to determine the total amount of waste agricultural plastics generated, and how it is managed at end-of-life in Alberta. The survey results are currently being analyzed, and the data received will help inform potential policy options around the issue.
A number of different approaches to waste management of agricultural plastics are currently being assessed. The survey reports should be available shortly and copies will be shared with the AAMDC, once available.
The ministries of Agriculture and Rural Development (ARD) and Environment and Sustainable Resource (ESRD) scoped the issue of waste management in rural Alberta through a survey process that sampled agricultural producers and municipal waste authorities. The AAMDC met with the Minister of ARD in early 2013 who noted there is a lack in regional facilities which creates a challenge associated with high costs of hauling agriculture plastics long distances for recycling purposes.
The AAMDC and ARD engaged with CleanFARMS through their development of an Alberta Agricultural Waste Characterization Study, which was released in August 2013. While the study inventories and quantifies the plastic waste generated on Alberta farms, it does not directly address the need for or possibility of recycling programs to address this waste. Though the Government is making strides to better understand the challenges associated with recycling agricultural plastics, there has not been any efforts to establish a provincial recycling program for all agricultural plastics products to date. As such, this resolution is deemed Unsatisfactory and will continue to be monitored.