Cleanfarms has released its first-ever national benchmark report, based on an 18-month research project, that documents how much plastic material is generated by the agricultural sector across Canada.

The research provides in-depth figures that will help guide the ag sector as it explores how agricultural plastics packaging and products can contribute to Canada’s emerging circular economy, says the organization.

“This data is available at an important time. There is considerable activity at the global level aimed at changing the ways that plastics are managed,” says Barry Friesen, executive director at Cleanfarms. “Closer to home, we can now measure our progress just as new initiatives are put in place that complement both established and high performing recycling programs and the ongoing commitment in the farming community to do even more.”

Cleanfarms currently operates a nation-wide program that recovers empty 23 L and smaller pesticide and fertilizer containers. The program has been in operation for 30 years and in 2020, 76 per cent of empty containers were recovered for recycling.

One of Cleanfarms’ newer programs, that helps Saskatchewan farms recycle grain bags, has seen collection volumes increase substantially.

The research estimates that Canadian farmers use nearly 62,000 tonnes of ag plastic products and packaging annually. About 53 per cent of that is generated in the Prairie provinces; Ontario and Quebec generate another 37 per cent; B.C. accounts for about 7 per cent, and the Maritimes produce the remainder.

Cleanfarms notes in the report that a national, multi-phased strategy is needed to enable industry to divert more plastics, that can then be recirculated in the Canadian economy.

“The fact that long-standing plastics management programs have been set up and operated voluntarily by the ag industry in Canada is a testament to how far this sector is ahead of the curve,” Friesen says. “Our efforts will continue to focus on expanding recycling in the ag sector to help farmers achieve their sustainability goals.”

The project was funded in part by Environment and Climate Change Canada.

The full report, titled “Agricultural Plastic Characterization and Management on Canadian Farms,” can be found here.

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