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Three-year Cleanfarms project focuses on recovering and recycling plastic used on farms

rural scene of a farm with cows

An innovative multi-year initiative that is helping to recover and recycle plastic used on farms will ramp up this fall, providing more Canadian farmers with opportunities to manage plastic waste in environmentally responsible ways. 

Farmers with livestock commonly preserve hay and silage in plastic wrap. Though a beneficial farm tool, the plastic requires end-of-life management. This Cleanfarms project is examining how plastic wrap and other used materials can be recovered for recycling.

The project, funded by Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada's Canadian Agricultural Strategic Priorities Program (CASPP), has been developed and is being executed by Cleanfarms, the national, non-profit industry stewardship organization that has programs in place across Canada to recover and manage non-organic farm waste, most of it plastic, for recycling or environmentally responsible disposal.

Entitled 'Building a Zero-Plastic Waste Strategy for Agriculture', the project has three broad-based objectives:

1. To build consensus on the appropriate management of non-organic agricultural waste;

2. To survey farmers to establish current patterns of disposal before and after pilots and education programs; and

3. To demonstrate best practices in ag waste management through pilot programs conducted throughout Canada.

"Our farmers care about the environment, and through investments like this the Government is supporting our farmers in the fight against climate change," said the Honourable Marie-Claude Bibeau, Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food. "We are committed to helping farmers become global leaders in sustainable agriculture and be a part of the climate solution by investing in innovative initiatives that promote environmentally-beneficial practices."

"We know farmers want more opportunities to manage agricultural waste materials in an environmentally responsible manner," said Cleanfarms Executive Director Barry Friesen. "This project will identify additional options for farmers and agricultural suppliers to incorporate sustainability practices more broadly in their daily operations. In today's economy, with the emphasis on sustainability and circular thinking, we have a responsibility and a great opportunity right across this country to improve recovery and recycling numbers."

Canadian agriculture currently uses about 40,000 tonnes of plastics annually in the process of growing crops and raising livestock, most of it in plastic containers, grain bags, twine and bale/silage film. Though plastic is essential throughout the farming industry, managing the end of lifecycle of plastics is a big challenge that requires forward-thinking solutions.

Cleanfarms already operates five permanent programs across Canada, the best known of which collects small plastic containers that are 23 litres and under for recycling. In 2019, farmers returned 5.5 million containers bringing the total number returned since the program began 30 years ago to 131.5 million. The containers are recycled into new agricultural products such as tile drainage pipes.

Other Cleanfarms programs include a national program to collect non-deposit bulk pesticide totes and drums; a national program to collect and properly dispose of unwanted agricultural pesticides and old, obsolete livestock/equine medications; grain bag recycling under a provincially-regulated program in Saskatchewan and pilot programs in Manitoba and Alberta; and seed and pesticide bag collection for proper disposal in eastern Canada with the addition of fertilizer bags in Quebec.

Together, these programs collect about 5,000 tonnes of agricultural plastics for recycling each year, and that number is growing rapidly with the more recent addition of grain bag collection programs. Still, there remains an opportunity to do even more.

"Dairy farmers are leaders in sustainable agriculture and have a vested interest in protecting our environment and preserving our natural resources," said Pierre Lampron, President, Dairy Farmers of Canada. "Cleanfarms' initiatives provide much-needed options for proper end-of-lifecycle management of agricultural plastics and dairy farmers are excited to see this project take root."

The CASPP/Cleanfarms project links with a recent initiative undertaken with the financial support of the Government of Canada through Environment and Climate Change Canada to quantify the types and volumes of on-farm plastic wastes and identify recycling facilities for agricultural plastics across Canada.               

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