A guide to farm recycling: the options and costs

Plastic usage is a hot topic globally, with all industries under pressure to reduce the amount used.

On farms – particularly livestock units – large quantities of plastic are used on a daily basis, yet many farmers may not be aware of the best options to reduce or recycle.

Farmers Weekly spoke to farm waste expert Mark Webb to find out what producers can do to reduce the amount of single-use plastics on farm, and visited a farmer in Wiltshire who has done just that.

What is recyclable on my farm?

There are many everyday items on farm that can easily be recycled to help reduce the single-use burden.

Individual types of plastic have different future uses, according to their specific characteristics and properties, so it is important to separate materials into the following categories:

  1. Clear plastic film (eg clear shavings bale shrink wrap)
  2. Silage sheet
  3. Silage wrap
  4. Plastic feed bags
  5. Paper feed bags
  6. Woven polypropylene bags (fertiliser or seed bags)
  7. Baler twine
  8. Net wrap
  9. Plant trays
  10. Dry cardboard
  11. Plant pots
  12. Spray and dairy chemical containers

How do recycling schemes work and how can I get involved?

There are a number of schemes across the country, including the Farm XS scheme run by Mark Webb.

Being involved is very easy and simply requires farmers to separate and bag up farm waste according to the type of plastic.

Farmers have the choice to deliver to a local Environmental Agency (EA) regulated collector site or arrange for collection at a fee.

Items such as wormer tubes, udder wipes, latex gloves and dry cow tubes can be recycled, but not through the normal recycling channels. Instead, they need to be bagged separately as hazardous waste and exchanged for a Hazardous Waste Consignment Note.

Are there any legalities to be aware of?

  • In 2006, the Waste Management Regulations banned the burning or burying of farm waste – including plastic and cardboard – meaning farmers have a legal duty to send waste off-farm, either to recycling or a landfill site.
  • Waste can be given only to an authorised person and a Waste Transfer note must be collected to show lawful disposal.
  • Farm assurance schemes also require records to be kept of waste disposal.
  • EA requirements state that all bags used for collecting waste for recycling must be fit for purpose – for example, don’t use fertiliser bags which have been opened by cutting a hole in them. Clean, woven polypropylene bags are the preferred bag of choice.
  • The EA also states that spray and dairy chemical containers should be cleaned and at least triple rinsed before disposal or recycling.
  • Foils must be kept separate, but there is an opportunity for these to be collected under a hazardous waste scheme.

Is there a cost to recycling?

If you don’t have suitable bagging options on farm, you will need to invest. However, these can cost as little as £6 for a 1m x 1.5m bag which will hold about 1,500 litres.

For members of the Farm XS scheme, annual membership varies from £149 to £365 – based on the farm area – and gives members unlimited recycling facilities.

What happens to my plastic afterwards?

Plastic is washed, shredded and turned into pellets for manufacturing into new products.

Different types of plastic can be used for different products – most commonly including bin liners, garden furniture, car body parts, fencing materials, wheelie bins, irrigation pipes and traffic cones.

What else can I do to reduce plastic use?

Unfortunately, farmers have very little control over how items are delivered, although there are a couple of measures that can be taken to reduce plastic on farm in the first place:

  • Where practical, buy in bulk – this can be particularly useful for items such as feed and fertiliser.
  • Switch to big square bales – at present, net wrap cannot be recycled and is a real problem in terms of farm waste. Switching to big square bales secured with twine is a more environment-friendly way of using plastic.

Farmer case study: Julian Brunt, Wiltshire

Farming near Chippenham, Wiltshire, Julian Brunt has been actively working to reduce the amount of single-use plastic on his mixed beef, arable and poultry farm.

“While there is no doubt that plastic is a necessary material on farm, we all need to be making a conscious effort to reduce usage where we can, and certainly make better use of recycling it,” he says.

Farm facts

Manor farm, Grittleton, Wiltshire

  • 300 head of Continental, Hereford and Angus cattle for fattening
  • 800 grass-fed free-range hens, with eggs sold locally to pubs and farm shops
  • Arable land growing wheat, barley and milling oats
  • Member of the Farm XS waste recycling scheme since 2006.

In 2006, the ban on burning plastic spurred Mr Brunt to get involved with a local recycling scheme – Farm XS – and he is currently recycling eight different types of plastic, largely generated from hay and silage bales used to feed his 300-head beef finishing herd.

He uses numbered dumpy bags, kept in an empty shed, to store his recyclable material and delivers to his local collection centre every other month.

“If you keep on top of it every day, it adds no extra pressure to your work load and helps keep the farm as a tidy and safer environment to work in,” he says.

While the environmental impact is one of the biggest benefits of being involved in a recycling scheme, it has also helped to minimise vermin infestations, explains Mr Webb.

“Big piles of waste are the perfect chewing and nesting ground for unwanted farm vermin – getting rid of it reduces the likelihood of infestations,” he says.

Mr Brunt adds: “It is as easy as pie to do. Instead of throwing bale wrap or string on the floor, you just pick it up as you go and put it into the right bag. It really is very simple.”