Painless recycling

They might not be reusable and it won’t be a case of returning them to the manufacturer, but farmer-operated pesticide container recycling collection schemes appear to be on the verge of giving growers the nationwide cost-effective disposal scheme they desperately need.

It is just in time.

New agricultural waste regulations are set to come into force soon, probably in December, which will prevent growers disposing of all farm waste, not just pesticide containers, through the two most common current routes – burial and burning.

And while burning waste will be allowed for a period of time – probably 12 months – after the regulations are implemented, getting a scheme in place for then is vital, says NFU waste spokesman Robert Caudwell.

“It is a relatively short transitional phase and we’ve seen from other countries it takes time to collect a high percentage of containers.

Anyone getting organised ahead of the game has to be a good thing for the industry.

“Perhaps the most forward scheme, at least in terms of experience, is Solway Recycling’s bin system.

In Scotland the scheme, which is for all types of plastic, including silage wrap and pesticide containers, has been running for five years.

“The bin system is unique to us.

We changed to it to keep contamination of the plastic to a minimum,” says the firm’s Chris Hartshorne.

It was that experience which drew Cambridgeshire grower Peter Bennett to contact Solway with a view to using their collection system in East Anglia.

He found he wasn’t the only interested farmer in England.

“Solway were interested in setting up collection hubs all over the country – they just needed the catalyst, which we farmers have provided.

“The result is a hub structure currently being set up nationwide, explains Mr Hartshorne.

“We’ve got 11 franchises in various stages of development, from Kent across to Cornwall, and up into Yorkshire, as well as established schemes in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.”

More are likely in the future, he says.

“We want to make the scheme accessible to every farmer in the country.

“The cost-effectiveness of Solway’s scheme is the attraction, says Mr Bennett, whose newly established company Greener Plastics is running an East Anglian collection hub.

“The farmer needs a scheme that is as cheap as possible, causes little hassle and has the least amount of red tape.

“For a participating farmer the Solway system is very easy to operate.

“To start with you buy a bin for a one-off cost of £265, which also includes 10 liners,” says Mr BennettDifferent plastic types need to be collected separately.

“Black plastic, such as silage wraps need to be kept separate from pesticide containers.

“But most farms should only require one bin, he believes.

“It depends on farm size, business and how many sites are being run, but average farms should be able to do one type of plastic on a run, and then switch to another type.

“Pesticide containers must be triple-rinsed before they are put into the liner.

“If they are not we won’t take them.

The liners are transparent so we can see what is in them.

“In addition, each liner is numbered so if dirty containers do get collected the offending grower can be traced.

Containers then need to be squashed and packed into the Solway bin, he says.

“The more you can get in the better because you are charged per collection.

“That costs £30 per liner. Each liner can hold around 1400 litres or 700kg of waste plastic, he says.

“A typical 400ha (1000 acre) combinable crop farm will fill maybe three or four liners a year,” he estimates.

Collection will be on an area and demand basis.

“On collection each farmer will receive a certificate that will provide evidence for any Environment Agency inspection that the plastic has been disposed of in a satisfactory manner.”

After collection the waste plastic is taken back to a central hub, possibly for chipping or baling depending on the type of plastic, prior to being transported to Solway’s plant for recycling, says Mr Hartshorne.

“We make it into a plastic crumb, which is then recycled into stock board that has a wide range of uses on farm.

It also is used to make the bins themselves.”

So is there any money to be made from waste plastic?

“There is some financial arrangement with each franchise – they get a commission on the sale of each bin, and a share in the cost of any material they collect.

“But it doesn’t amount to much, according to Mr Bennett.

“The margins on plastic are minute.”

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