Waste not, want not, future on-farm recycling

30 November 2001

Waste not, want not, future on-farm recycling

By Jeremy Hunt

IMMINENT legislation covering disposal of farm waste – which includes plastic film for big-bales, silage sheets and fertiliser bags – will require farmers to adopt a new approach to on-farm storage and recycling.

That was the underlying message from a conference organised by the Cumbria Farm Plastic Recycling Scheme held at Penrith which stressed future legislation – which should have been introduced last August but was delayed because of the foot-and-mouth crisis – will force farmers to find new ways of disposing of waste plastic.

The Cumbria scheme was launched in January 2000 and has voluntary support from 350 farmers who have since used it to dispose of 700 tonnes of waste plastic.

"Our aim has been to find the most practical and sustainable service to provide farmers with an effective method of plastic disposal," said Carol Douglas who runs the Cumbria scheme – one of seven currently operating in the UK.

British farms use 40,000 tonnes of plastic film a year – a figure that highlights the critical need for an effective collection and disposal system.

Bale wrap, bale bags, silage sheets and 0.5 tonne fertiliser bag liners as well as small bags used for feed, fertiliser and minerals can all be recycled.

"Burning plastic produces toxic fumes which are damaging to farmers health as well as polluting the environment. It is also illegal and can result in substantial fines.

"Plastic that is buried will not rot and rises back up to the surface; agricultural waste plastic disposed of through domestic refuse collection only ends up in landfill sites which leads to all sorts of environmental problems," says Carol Douglas.

She believes recycling is the best option but says voluntary schemes need government support.

"Voluntary schemes play a vital role in setting up the infrastructure and raising farmers awareness about plastic disposal. But this is only a short-term option.

"We need to see a levy imposed on plastic to provide some finance to enable schemes like the one underway in Cumbria to continue in the long term."

The extension of controls covering farm waste disposal (to bring the UK in line with the ECs Waste Framework Directive 1991) will mean farmers are obliged to apply for a waste management licence if they want to dispose or treat waste on their own farm.

In reality few farmers will be able to meet the obligations or costs leaving them no option but to use waste disposal contractors. Recycling is considered the most obvious and cost effective method of disposal of waste farm plastic.

Within the Cumbria scheme farmers have been charged 50% of the actual transport costs associated with removal from the farm. The charges depend on the density or size of the load but are usually around £20 +VAT.

The recycled plastic is made into refuse bags or plaswood – the latter is a durable, waterproof product used for garden and street furniture.

Lincs farmer John Stott with his waste plastic bin which can hold up to 300 silage bags. The wrapped bags contain waste plastic collected from farms.

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