Farm plastic waste presents an opportunity for contractors

Getting involved in handling recyclable farm waste has added a new service to a long-established contracting business – and provided a project for the third generation of the family that runs it.

For some, getting rid of waste is a hassle for others, it’s a business opportunity. Witness the growth of the Agri-cycle network of franchised operators providing farms with a collection and drop-off service for plastic and cardboard.

“We’ve built up a network of 43 local collection services and drop-off locations in the past five years and many of them are run by contractors,” says David Kent of Agri-cycle. “It appeals to contractors because it’s not time-critical, it dovetails nicely with other services and it can be set up with little capital investment.”

John Ulyatt of Lincolnshire contracting firm Pete Ulyatt and Son confirms that assessment: “Apart from paying the one-off fee for the franchise rights, the only outlay has been for a grab to go on the telehandler and a trailer to collect waste behind a pick-up,” he points out.

“The job’s not a big earner, although I’m hopeful that will improve as more farmers get organised with dealing with their waste. But it covers some of our wage bill and overheads for the year and gives us contact with a large number of farms in the area.”

Functioning as an Agri-cycle recycling hub, either collecting plastic and cardboard or providing a location for customers to drop it off, fits neatly with the specialist-services-only policy followed by Pete Ulyatt, his son John and grandson Martin.

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John Ulyatt (right), pictured here with his father Pete and son Martin, says the farm waste service fits in well with the other services provided by the contracting business

“We still do some ploughing, but we’re not interested in general services where there’s a lot of competition and price-cutting to get work,” says John Ulyatt. “So we stick with sugar beet lifting, which my father first started doing in the early 1950s, applying Omex solution fertilisers and combining.”

He signed up with Agri-cycle in 2007, having seen the potential in a franchise that guaranteed a trading area within a 25-mile radius of their home at Fosdyke, required little capital and would appeal to existing and non-customers alike.

“I also saw it as the perfect service for my son Martin to take on after he left school,” Mr Ulyatt adds. “I got the service up and running in the first year, but he now looks after it day-to-day.”

The Agri-cycle scheme offers farmer customers a flexible system for charging and they can also choose to drop off their recyclable waste themselves or (for a higher fee) have their waste collected.

“In the first year, a lot of customers opted to pay by the bag because they were unsure how much waste they produced,” says John Ulyatt. “But most now pay a fixed price according to their production and it’s to Agri-cycle’s credit that they calculated this very accurately when preparing to launch the service.”

There has also been a shift towards the waste being dropped off as farmers have decided it is better doing that on a rainy day or whenever it is convenient rather than storing it for once or twice-yearly collection.

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Agri-cycle accepts all components of pesticides packaging, including foils and caps, but insists that customers comply with its strict preparation and traceability rules

Either way, customers must follow a strict preparation and storage code that, for example, includes triple rinsing of pesticide containers before they are packed into 3000-litre bags.

Each bag carries a farm identification number so that when consignments are checked for compliance, they can be traced back to the source farm. If problems persist, Agri-cycle will refuse to collect the farm’s waste.

“Apart from having a quiet word with one or two sprayer operators in the early days, we’ve had no problems with customers not following the rules,” says Martin Ulyatt. “And there’s not much paperwork involved. We issue the customer with a Waste Transfer Notice and then notify the Agri-cycle office so that all invoicing and other administration can be handled from there.”

A tractor-powered waste baler supplied by Agri-cycle is used to compress polypropylene seed and fertiliser bags into 0.5t bales for more efficient haulage to the company’s processing base at Caenby in Lincolnshire.

Cardboard – pesticide packaging outers, for example – is also baled, while the bags of pesticide containers are placed into larger palletised “dumpy” bags, which can be used as collection bags by large farms and spraying contractors to hold up to 1300 containers.

“We also take plastic crop cover, but because of its bulky nature, we collect it direct from farms,” says Agri-cycle’s Robert Moore. “Other materials are collected from the recycling hubs as return loads whenever possible, not only to help with costs, but also to keep our carbon footprint to a minimum.”

He emphasises that 95% of Agri-cycle’s farm waste is recycled by shredding, washing and granulating for re-manufacture into new products, mostly in the UK.

“Some aspects of recycling may have stalled because of the economic climate,” he says. “But because we’re in control of the process, we still want waste materials from farms for our own recycling venture.”

Waste-bags-bale

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Fertiliser and seed bags (left) and cardboard outers are compressed into “bales” for more efficient handling and transportation using an Agri-cycle-supplied compacter

Quality control standards

The National Association of Agricultural Contractors (NAAC) has led moves to establish quality control standards for collectors of agricultural waste. They form part of the NAAC’s Assured Land-Based Contractor scheme and will be independently audited by NSF-CMi certification.
“The aim of introducing the standards is to ensure that waste is collected in a safe and professional manner,” says scheme manager Adrian Riley. “All staff involved in the waste collection service provided by assured contractors would be suitably skilled, have collection equipment and vehicles maintained correctly and any hazards identified and controlled.”
The standard promotes a fully traceable route between the waste producer, the waste collection contractor and the next point of the collection chain. Also, assured waste collection contractors will be required to recycle at least 70% of all waste collected.
“We’ve had great support from every organisation with an interest in this growing sector, notably from those who process waste plastics,” says Adrian Riley. “Like the NAAC, they want the job to be done correctly and responsibly while recognising practical and economic realities.”
He adds that by using assured contractors, farmers are “going a long way towards fulfilling their obligations under the waste regulations”.
First consignments of farm waste should be collected from farms this spring by collectors who have successfully completed the assured contractor certification process.

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