PEI·Waves of Change

How tonnes of plastic farm wrap are diverted from P.E.I.'s landfill

A program on P.E.I. has diverted tonnes of bale wrap — used on farms to wrap silage, straw and hay — from the landfill.

'We're hoping the other Atlantic provinces and Ontario and Quebec come on board'

The Island Waste Management Corporation has been collecting the plastic from silage and boat shrink wrap since 2013. Cleanfarms finds markets for the plastic once it's collected and baled. (Nancy Russell/CBC)

Waves of Change is a CBC series exploring the single-use plastic we're discarding, and why we need to clean up our act. You can be part of the community discussion by joining our Facebook group.

A program on P.E.I. has diverted tonnes of bale wrap — plastic used on farms to wrap silage, straw and hay — from the landfill.

The project is a partnership between the Island Waste Management Corporation and a farm industry group. Members of the group, called Cleanfarms, include manufacturers and retailers of products used on farms, from pest control to medications, fertilizers and seed.

Silage plastic and boat shrink wrap from across the Island are shipped to the East Prince Waste Management Facility where they are put in bales to be sold for recycling. (Nancy Russell/CBC)

"I think it's been a great uptake," said Gerry Moore, C.E.O. of Island Waste Management.

"Prince Edward Island is a big agricultural area, a lot of dairy and beef cattle, so there is a lot of silage wrap here on P.E.I." 

Moore estimates the corporation collects about 150 metric tonnes of plastic from silage, hay and straw as well as shrink wrap from boats, on a yearly basis since the program started in 2013.

"We ask that it be relatively clean so that the markets do accept it," Moore said. 

"We understand that a certain amount of the silage sticks to the wrap but we ask farmers to do their due diligence when they're taking it off and if they can store it in a clean dry place."

The plastic can be dropped off free of charge at Waste Watch Drop-Off Centres across Prince Edward Island. (IWMC)

Moore said if the plastic is too dirty, it will be rejected and sent to the landfill, at the farmer's expense.

The plastic wrap is accepted at Waste Watch drop-off centres across the Island. It is then sent to the East Prince Waste Management Facility where it is baled up and sent to market by Cleanfarms.

Moore estimates that the corporation collects about 150 metric tonnes of plastic wrap on a yearly basis since the pilot program started in 2013. (Randy McAndrew/CBC)

Overfilled dumpsters

At Tiny Acres Holsteins in Lot 16, P.E.I., Logan Bryanton now makes weekly trips with a truckload of silage plastic to the facility in nearby Wellington, P.E.I.

The Bryanton family farms 800 acres, with a herd of 150 dairy cows.

Bryanton now makes weekly trips with a truckload of silage plastic to the East Prince Waste Management Facility. (Nancy Russell/CBC)

"We used to have dumpsters for the plastic and they'd be overfilled in the first week and we'd have to pay for every three day pickup and so it was an inconvenience for us," Bryanton said.

"We've been hauling it for about two years now. We're lucky, we're close so it takes us about 30 minutes a week to load it up and haul it up to the dump."

Bryanton said they store the plastic they take off their silage and straw on a concrete pad, with concrete walls around it, to protect it from the elements.

"They're great at the dump, they take it for free," Bryanton said. 

Tiny Acres Holsteins uses a lot of plastic for the large square bales that hold a year's worth of feed and straw. (Nancy Russell/CBC)

Not going to landfill

Tiny Acres uses a lot of plastic for the large square bales that contain both straw and silage. Bryanton estimates they use 12 pallets of 24 rolls of plastic a year.

"It's important to have it wrapped in plastic so it can ferment on its own and it keeps the sun from heating through it," Bryanton said. 

"We like the consistency of our square bales and it just makes an easy process."

The plastic wrap also keeps straw and hay from getting wet. 

The Bryantons put silage into plastic wrap to feed their herd of 150 cows year round. (Nancy Russell/CBC)

Bryanton said it's worth the effort to recycle the plastic.

"It's not something we're really too worried about because we know that our plastic isn't going into the landfill," Bryanton said.

"I don't know where it goes from there but it's certainly great to see it not be dumped into the landfill."

Plastic containers from farms

Barry Friesen of Cleanfarms said his group was founded in 2010 to pick up plastic and other agricultural waste products for safe disposal or recycling.

In 2017, the organization collected more than 5.2 million empty pesticide and fertilizer containers and almost 300,000 empty seed and pesticide bags across Canada.

Friesen said Canada-wide there is about a 65 per cent recovery rate of the plastic containers used on farms.

He said the plastics are recycled into other plastics, including things like farm drainage tiles.

Cleanfarms also recycles used pesticide and fertilizer containers on P.E.I. as well as empty seed and pesticide bags. (Submitted by Cleanfarms)

Friesen said more jurisdictions are looking at recycling agricultural plastic.

Manitoba has a pilot project collecting silage wrap for recycling and Cleanfarms just launched a new pilot in a region of Quebec. 

"We're hoping the other Atlantic provinces and Ontario and Quebec come on board," he said.

"Our long-term goal is to operate that on a permanent basis."

At Tiny Acres Holsteins, they store the plastic they take off their silage and straw on a concrete pad, with concrete walls around it, to protect it from the elements. (Randy McAndrew/CBC)

Plastic important to agriculture

Friesen said there is also room to do more with agricultural plastic.

"Underneath every bale is either twine or netting and that's another plastic product that currently has no home," Friesen said.

"There's a lot of these types of plastic products that are used on the farm that currently have no home and our goal is to move toward an industry stewardship program to be able to collect all of it."

In 2017, Cleanfarms collected more than 5.2 million empty pesticide and fertilizer containers and almost 300,000 empty seed and pesticide bags across Canada. (Submitted by Cleanfarms)

However, in Friesen's opinion, plastic is here to stay in agriculture.

"These new plastic products have allowed farmers to be far more efficient and be far more productive on their land," he said.

"We're likely to see a lot more different uses of plastic. As long as there's a proper efficient method of collecting and managing this at end of life, they're great products to use."

About the Author

Nancy Russell has been a reporter with CBC since 1987, in Whitehorse, Winnipeg, Toronto and Charlottetown. When not on the job, she spends her time on the water rowing, travelling to Kenya or walking her dog. Nancy.Russell@cbc.ca