Barry Friesen, P.Eng
Executive Director, Cleanfarms
Today’s farmers are challenged by more than economy and weather — they’re called on to produce more product yet still achieve sustainability goals.
Growing healthy food to feed Canadians and others around the world is a challenge in today’s economic and environmental climate. Historically, a successful farmer had to be a jack of all trades, from predicting weather to managing farmhands and fixing high-tech equipment. On top of that, today’s farmers must produce more product with a smaller carbon footprint while still being good stewards of their land.
Sustainability has become a farming best practice but some growers are finding that modern farming techniques can generate harder-to-manage ag-plastic waste. That’s where Cleanfarms and its members come in.
Industry taking responsibility
Cleanfarms, a national non-profit industry stewardship organization, is committed to environmental responsibility through proper management of inorganic agricultural waste like used plastics. It has been developing and expanding programs to give farmers access to recycling or proper disposal of inorganic waste generated in farm operations since 2010. At present, 71 agriculture companies and related organizations take responsibility for their products and packaging at end of life through this ag-focused organization.
Cleanfarms’ programs enable farmers to view farm operations through the lens of what can be recycled or managed for proper, environmentally-responsible disposal. Programs include:
- Nation-wide recycling of small plastic pesticide and fertilizer jugs;
- Nation-wide collection of larger one-way totes and drums;
- Nation-wide collection and proper disposal of unwanted pesticides and old, obsolete livestock and equine medications;
- Recycling of grain bags and twine in the Prairies; and
- Proper disposal of seed, pesticide, and fertilizer bags in Eastern Canada.
While these programs have posted significant achievements in managing farm waste materials, Cleanfarms’ members are going even further in their mission to foster more sustainable farming in Canada.
Thinking circular packaging
The global movement toward a circular economy for packaging and non-durable products is driving new thinking in the agricultural industry about how to deliver products to farmers that optimize resource recovery and recycling and incorporate post-consumer recycled content.
One way to achieve an immediate impact is to shift some single-use packaging to reusable formats. Another is to incorporate post-consumer plastic resin from container recycling into new jugs for pesticides and fertilizer, which will drive stronger end markets. Canadian farmers are already finding greater convenience in having crop inputs delivered to them in reusable containers. Plus, Cleanfarms is working to support new Canadian end markets for ag-recyclables.
While it’s early days for applications of packaging circularity to demonstrate large scale improvements in sustainability, Cleanfarms members are setting a course for robust change.