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Cleanfarms plastic recovery efforts are meeting circular economy goals

Waste Reduction Week Plastics Day is October 22

cleanfarms grain bag collection site in a field at a farm

Each year, Waste Reduction Week (WRW) is marked in the third week of October when organizations throughout Canada celebrate achievements and commit to work harder to support the principles and practices of the circular economy, resource efficiency and waste reduction. These are all principles that are at the core of Cleanfarms.   

This year, WRW has designated Thursday, October 22 as plastics day, meant to highlight the progress made across multiple sectors from the take-make-waste linear consumption to a circular restorative and regenerative economy.

"Given the central role plastics play as an essential tool in today's agricultural community, Thursday is a day to recognize the achievements Canadian growers have made, and continue to make toward sustainability in farm operations for present and future generations," says Cleanfarms Executive Director Barry Friesen.

"Every year, the number of Canadian farmers who use Cleanfarms' programs to manage agricultural plastic waste is growing. There's no doubt that as stewards of their land, they want these programs to collect empty pesticide and fertilizer jugs, drums, totes, grain bags and twine to expand, so that recycling becomes a standard throughout every province." 

The 2019 results show progress:

  • Farmers returned and Cleanfarms recycled 5.5 million empty pesticide and fertilizer jugs and containers 23L and under, bringing the total since the container recycling program began more than 30 years ago to 131.5 million jugs recycled. 
  • In a relatively new program to recover and recycle non-deposit empty pesticide and fertilizer totes and drums, last year farmers returned 55,400 of them bringing the total recovered since this program began to 183,400.
  • The latest Cleanfarms program to be launched focuses on recovering plastic grain bags. In 2019, with a provincial government extended producer responsibility program in place in Saskatchewan and pilot programs underway in Manitoba and Alberta, the number of tonnes of used ag-waste plastics headed for recycling mills has rapidly climbed. With used grain bags, ag-film wrap and thousands of kilometers of twine combined, Cleanfarms sent 3,700 tonnes of waste ag-plastic to end markets to be recycled into new agricultural products such as drainage tiles. 

While 2020 results for container recycling will not be available until spring 2021, indications are that this will be a record-breaking year across Canada, despite COVID-19 challenges, with farmers returning more containers, drums and totes than in any previous year.


Equally strong are indications that the number of grain bags collected for recycling in Saskatchewan will continue to climb, bringing more recyclable plastics into the circular economy for processing and remanufacturing.


The provincial government in Manitoba has asked Cleanfarms to help it transition pilot projects to recover ag plastic waste to a permanent producer responsibility program to ensure recycling measures are in place province-wide for empty pesticide and fertilizer containers, grain bags and twine.  


Under the 'Alberta Ag-Plastic. Recycle It!' pilot project, Cleanfarms has set up 20 collection sites across the province that, as of October 1, are accepting used grain bags and twine from growers for recycling. Cleanfarms is set to announce six additional collection sites in the coming days and sights are set on adding another two sites in the Peace Region early in the new year. Cleanfarms runs the 'Alberta Ag-Plastic. Recycle It!' pilot on behalf of the Agricultural Plastics Recycling Group. 


In Quebec, farmers' increasing need to manage about 6,500 tonnes of plastic twine, bale wrap and netting to store hay has led to Cleanfarms establishing a series of pilot projects to identify and test new ways to manage these materials safely and to avoid disposal in landfill.

Working with regions, municipalities, retailers, distributors, recyclers and farmers to test best approaches to recovering these plastics for recycling or energy recovery, Cleanfarms has completed the first phase of doing field research. Currently, Cleanfarms is conducting pilots in the Montérégie Region to assess options for collecting and processing these plastics, and for communicating effectively with farmers on best practices. 

In 2021, Cleanfarms will expand the pilot projects to other regions in Québec, and down the road, the aim is to establish and operate an industry-funded program to collect and recycle these materials in a permanent program.

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