Will single-use plastic ban impact agriculture? Perhaps not in the way you might think

While agriculture plastics were not mentioned in the federal government’s recent pledge to ban single-use plastics, the pre-campaign promise certainly has many asking if ag plastics, such as twine, bale wrap, and grain bags, might end up being impacted.

According to Christina Seidel, executive director of the Recycling Council of Alberta, the federal government’s direction is unlikely to impact ag plastics right now, but it certainly does raise the profile of the need to find viable recycling solutions to the products.

“What it is going to do is really raise the profile of plastics, and plastics needing to be properly managed, and that, then, is going to encourage people to be interested in programs and properly participate,” Seidel says.

Seidel’s organization is part of a group currently putting together a pilot project to recycle grain bags and twine. “Part of the reason why we picked those (products), is not only are they very significant in terms of volume, but they also have markets, and it’s really important if we’re going to collect materials, that they actually have markets so we can get them properly recycled,” Seidel says.

For those interested in the grain bag and twine recycling program, Seidel says to make sure you first establish whether or not you’re in an area that is part of the project (contact the Alberta Ag Fieldmen’s office nearest you), and then make sure you keep any recycling material clean and collect it properly.

Seidel sees that the government is signalling some movement towards extended producer responsibility regulations across the country, meaning those that make and sell grain bag and twine may be responsible for proper recycling.

Cleanfarms, the national organization that operates programs throughout the country to collect agricultural plastics for recycling and proper disposal, says that although farm plastic waste will not be affected by bans, the impact could see increases in regulations for agricultural products through government industry responsibility programs.

“For example, in Saskatchewan, grain bag recycling is now required under a provincially-regulated industry stewardship program,” Friesen says. “To cover the cost of recycling the bags, which weigh hundreds of kilograms, an environmental handling fee is applied at purchase. Like the fee on the electronics that we’ve had for years, purchasers of grain bags, in this case Saskatchewan farmers, pay the handling fee when they buy or import grain bags,” says Cleanfarms general manager Barry Friesen.

The Saskatchewan grain bag handling fee, the first of its kind in the Canadian agricultural industry, has been in place since November 2018. Saskatchewan farmers who use grain bags for storage will see it on sales receipts as they purchase grain bags for the coming harvest. The fee is 25 cents a kilogram which can amount to about $31 on a 9-foot by 200-foot grain bag that can cost several hundred dollars.

“The ban on single-use plastics the government proposed this week largely focuses on residential packaging and products. But governments are also concerned about overall waste reduction and diversion to help reduce plastic litter, landfills and the carbon footprint of packaging of all types. This means that non-durable products and packaging that don’t currently have programs or that have low recycling recovery rates may be regulated down the road,” Friesen says.

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