“Down on the Farm” — Recycling Some Plastics

by Duane Nichols on November 28, 2015

Farm Greenhouse Plastics Abound

Agricultural Plastic Recycling Effort to Begin December 9, 2015

“Rows of White Tubes line many Pendleton County fields as farmers prepare for winter feeding season.  An area recycling program is aimed at disposing of the used plastic in an environmentally friendly way.”

>>> From an Article in The Pendleton Times, Franklin, WV, November 26, 2015

According to a study published by Penn State University (PSU) in 2014, the agriculture industy uses hundreds of millions of pounds of plastic and the amount is expected to rise.  Plastic allows farmers to increase production and decrease costs.  The most common use of plastic, locally, is for silage tubes, bale wrap and net wrap, all of which result in less spoilage of forages and increased product.

For many years landfills have been the popular “dumping place” for these products.  On-farm disposal can create unsightly piles and/or havens for rodents such as mice and snakes.

In the PSU study, 60% of the farmers surveyed indicated that they disposed of the used plastic either by burning on site or by hauling the waste to a landfill. Unfortunately, burning or burying the plastic on site may require a permit and landfill space is rapidly disappearing. (In 1979, there were 18,500 landfills nationwide but by 2009 the number had dropped to 1,908).

Luckily, Pendleton County farmers now have an environmentally responsible solution to eliminate those white mounds that accumulate near feeding areas this time of year.  The Region VIII Solid Waste Authority, WV-DEP, WV Farm Bureau and West Virginia University Extension Service are continuing a project to collect, free of charge, certain agricultural plastic for recycling.

Recycling takes the plastic from waste and returns it to the manufacturing process.  Used plastic is collected at the drop-off and shipped to a recycler where it is separated, cleaned and pelletized or shredded before being reprocessed.  The reprocessed plastic is used to make such products as trash bags, flower pots, park benches, industrial pallets and composite lumber.

However, as with most recycling projects it does take a little planning.  Agricultural plastics that can be recycled include: silage bags, net wrap, silage wrap, bunk silo covers and greenhouse plastic.  These plastics should be kept relatively clean (no mud or manure) and dry. It should be free of as much vegetative material as possible, in bundles that can be handled by one person, and collected and stored off the ground and in a dry location before delivery.  New wrap of all colors can be recycled, however, the colors must be separated.  Rock, soil and/or manure covered plastic should not be delivered as excessively dirty or contaminated material will not be accepted for recycling.

Unfortunately, this project cannot accept plastic bale twine, row covers, nursery pots, irrigation tubing, plastic jugs or plastic bottles.  Unacceptable materials will be immediately returned to the hauler.

Starting in December, agricultural plastic will be accepted for recycling at the Petersburg Transfer Station on the second Wednesday of the month from 8 AM to 3 PM.

For more information on the Agricultural Plastic Recycling Program in Region VIII, contact David Seymour at the Pendleton County Extension Office.

<< An article from last year about this program is on-line >>

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

S. Thomas Bond November 28, 2015 at 10:41 am

There are many problems involved with the recycling of excess farm plastics! Fantastic labor would be involved in getting it clean, particularly bale wrap.  It is in contact with the silage inside and frequently sets on the ground in wet weather.  One of the several reason I don’t use wrap, forsaking palatability and a lot of nutrition, is just this problem.  I hope to get sheds on my farm to protect dry hay from wet and rot. 

On my farm, the main plastic residue is tubs for urea-based protein supplement (the rumen microflora are able to convert urea into amino acids, which make protein, and which can be absorbed directly through the rumen wall). These tubs are passed on to a greenhouse belonging to someone else who can use them. 

Feed bags cannot be reused after the first of the year, so new woven plastic bags will come with each purchase of feed (sanitation, they say).  These feed bags used to be manila, which is biodegradable, but feed bags now constitute a disposal problem.  Washing plastic items seems to be too expensive, or too much trouble, when they are so cheap.


Marissa.Com (4/3/2015) November 29, 2015 at 2:25 pm

From Marissa Fessenden, SMITHSONIAN.COM, April 3, 2015

There once was a great future in plastics, but their waste is weighing that future down. 

Scraps and bit cumulatively reaching more than 250,000 tons end up in the ocean, and even the smallest particles cause trouble as they clog corals. Eventually some of the six billion tons of plastic manufactured since the mid-20th century becomes a sort of stone, an aggregate of bound plastic and rocks.

Scientists still aren’t sure how so much plastic ends up in the ocean, but they do know where much of it starts. Elizabeth Grossman visited a small farm owned by Kara Gilbert to track down agricultural plastics. She reports for Ensia:

On a visit to the four-acre farm on lush Sauvie Island at the confluence of the Willamette and Columbia Rivers near Portland, Ore., Gilbert gives me a tour de farm plastics. The fields are just being readied for the season, but black plastic is already laid out under a hoop house. PVC water pipes are being set into place and drip irrigation tape is ready to be deployed, as are plastic sacks of fertilizer. Out in the greening field, little orange-pink plastic plant tags on ankle-high stakes flap in the wet breeze to mark rows of just-sprouted peas.

This tiny produce farm buys between $4,000 and $6,000 worth of plastic every year, Grossman writes. Multiply that number times the number of farms and keep in mind that the larger farms will use much more… you get the picture. Bales are wrapped, greenhouses covered, pesticides stored all in plastic. Gene Jones of the Southern Waste Information eXchange estimates that the U.S. uses about one billion pounds of plastic in agriculture every year.

Fortunately, we are trying to do better. Farm plastics are no longer burned or buried on farm property, or at least most states ban the practice. Now growers are trying to use less plastic by reusing when they can. Grossman writes:

By far the biggest opportunity to reduce farm plastic waste, however, is through recycling. Currently only about 10 percent of farm plastics are recycled. Increasing that number will depend on making drop-off more convenient and expanding options for giving plastic a second life.

In New York, where a statewide ban on backyard or farm burning of plastics was passed in 2009, the Cornell program worked with the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation to pioneer agricultural plastics recycling and do educational outreach about recycling options through extension programs and local soil and water conservation districts.

But recycling farm plastic can be challenging. Grossman spoke to an Oregon-based company that recycles baling twine, the orange plastic rope that keeps hay bales together. Apparently the material is so abrasive that many machines can’t handle it. Workers have to remove the pieces of hay still clinging to the twine painstakingly by hand. Another company makes reusable grocery bags from ag plastics. A third processes old irrigation pipes into pellets that can be used to make plastic sheets and films for growing produce.

The use of biodegradable plastics might also help — a Washington State University publication cites the benefits of plant starch-based mulches, as opposed to petroleum-based plastic mulches, used for weed suppression and to keep soil warm and moist for growing crops. 

Like many multifaceted issues, the problems posed by ag plastics won’t have one solution. Hopefully we can have many creative solutions, such as the Netherlands’ plan to nab plastic before it escapes to sea and build floating parks for humans above and fish and sea creatures below.


Amanda Pitzer December 2, 2015 at 9:33 am

RE: agricultural plastic

This kind of recycling is happening in Preston County, too! 

Friends of the Cheat is working with local Charlie Pase to turn old ag wrap into useful construction materials (beams, posts, etc.).

Cool stuff!

Cheers, Amanda


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