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Pointing to a Sustainable Future: Managing On-Farm Used Plastics

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Barry friesen

Barry Friesen

Executive Director, Cleanfarms

Like many sectors in the Canadian economy, in agriculture, efficient food production on the farm is possible, in part, because of the use of plastics. However, farmers, like other Canadians, are concerned about how to responsibly manage their used agricultural plastics when these materials are no longer needed on the farm.

That’s where Cleanfarms makes a difference. Cleanfarms is a non-profit industry stewardship organization that for more than 10 years has been partnering with farmers, farm organizations, and other stakeholders across the country to develop and deliver a suite of recycling and safe disposal programs that give farmers options to manage used agricultural plastics sustainably.

That’s important to farmers for three main reasons. First, it keeps the plastics out of the environment — a goal that’s shared by Canadians from coast to coast. Second, it helps farmers operate even more sustainably for present and future generations of farmers. And third, it keeps farms clean and tidy.

Cleanfarms’ programs started with empty plastic pesticide container recycling more than 30 years ago. Last year, Canadian farmers brought back more than 76 percent of the containers put into the marketplace, amounting to about 5.5 million jugs. Since its inception, the program has recycled more than 137 million containers that have been made into new products like farm drainage tile, fence posts, dimensional construction lumber, and plastic pallets, fuelling the circular economy.

We credit farmers for making this program a success. And that’s not all they’re doing. Many farmers are reducing their reliance on single-use jugs by purchasing products in refillable bulk drums and totes that can be returned to retail for reuse or recycling when empty. Through our 1,400 partner-operated collection locations across the country, we’re making it more convenient for farmers to return containers and other materials for recycling or safe disposal.

Cleanfarms’ other programs include:

  • A nationwide collection and proper disposal program for unwanted pesticides and old, obsolete livestock and equine medications
  • Recycling programs for grain bags and agricultural baler twine, and
  • A disposal program for seed and pesticide bags in Eastern Canada and fertilizer bags in Quebec

None of these programs would be possible without the voluntary commitment of Cleanfarms’ industry members in the crop protection, fertilizer, seed, and animal health medication industries. You’ll recognize many of these companies by their logos in the adjacent illustration.

The fact that long-standing plastics management programs have been set up and operated voluntarily by the Canadian agriculture industry is a testament to how far this sector is ahead of the curve. We’ll continue our efforts to focus on expanding recycling in the agriculture sector to help farmers achieve their sustainability goals.

Throughout the globe, activities are underway to change the way that plastics are managed. Closer to home, we can thank the agriculture industry for stepping up to work with farmers on initiatives that make Canadian agriculture a leader in the sustainable management of agricultural plastics.

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