Multiple Stakeholders in Minnesota Work to Recycle Agricultural Plastic
3. June 2016
There’s plenty of talk about consumer plastic packaging waste but what about agricultural plastic?
For instance, in Minnesota, 460,000 dairy cows alone account for an estimated 15-20 pounds of plastic per head each year. This, combined with plastic from beef and other livestock operations, leaves more than 10 million pounds of plastic waste annually, according to the Environmental Initiative, a Minnesota-based nonprofit organization. Most of this plastic was either sent to a landfill, buried or burned on site—none was recycled.
This is where a diverse group of stakeholders identified and established methods for properly managing agricultural as well as boat plastic-wrap waste. Due to its successful efforts, the group—Recycling Association of Minnesota and their partners, including Pope/Douglas Solid Waste Management (PDSWM)—were selected as 2016 Partnership of the Year for its Recycling Agricultural and Marine Plastics program at the annual Environmental Initiative Awards.
Back in 2014, the Recycling Association of Minnesota identified and worked with all stakeholders to address the problem. Other partners included Tri-County South, McLeod and Dakota counties, as well as the MN Dept. of Agriculture.
"Farmers were calling us because they knew what they were doing with the plastic films wasn’t right," said Brita Sailer of the Recycling Association of Minnesota. "I’m so proud of all of the partners that worked to find a common sense solution to this waste challenge."
Over the course of two years, the group worked to identify and establish environmentally and economically sustainable methods for properly managing plastic wrap waste.
Pilot hubs were initiated in several separate geographical areas of the state for the purpose of setting up and testing collection points and methods. This includes identifying and locating appropriate equipment, temporary storage models, addressing transportation issues, end markets and educational /promotional strategies. Throughout this project, selected agricultural film plastics are accepted for no charge at McLeod County and by some recycling brokers. In addition, farmers in some pilot project counties can drop off plastics for recycling at no charge. According to the Recycling Association of Minnesota, this increases recycling rates and reduces improper disposal methods.
For instance, the Pope/Douglas Solid Waste Management Recycling Center in Alexandria has recycled over 30 tons of agricultural plastics (silage wrap/marshmallow bale wrap) and over nine tons of boat wrap to date.
They believe a key to success in this effort stems from bringing together diverse stakeholders, many of whom previously had not had the opportunity to collaborate, to hear and discuss the barriers and realities in place for each of them and to understand that the management of these waste plastics has risen to a level requiring coordinated action.
Pretty good study of how a group working on the same page can make a tangible difference when it comes to recycling.