Canadian farmers work long hours to produce food for families around the world and in the process, generate an estimated 40,000 tonnes of waste annually — most of it plastic. With a growing interest in managing this waste responsibly, farmers are looking for ways to boost recycling in their operations.

Plastic is commonly used in various farm activities. Although essential for efficiency, the challenge is recovering those plastic resources to be used in new products when they are no longer useful on the farm. That’s where Cleanfarms comes in. The organization is a leader in providing Canadian farmers with convenient and effective options to manage large volumes of agricultural product and packaging waste.

Responsibility is the watchword

Recycling agricultural waste is not new. In fact, CropLife Canada started the recycling of plastic jugs for crop protection products in the late 1980s. By 2009, the mantle to manage and expand farm waste recovery programs passed to a new organization, Cleanfarms, created specifically for that purpose and headed by General Manager Barry Friesen. With a long history in solid waste management and industry stewardship programs, Friesen established Cleanfarms as a non-profit, industry-operated and funded stewardship program. Through their membership, crop protection, seed, fertilizer and agricultural film companies work as partners with retailers, distributors, and farmers to manage packaging appropriately at end of life.

Partnerships are critical to the success of Cleanfarms’ programs. Cleanfarms is able to develop and deliver these programs due to the support of members and partners who share their vision and commitment to the environment. Farm groups and grower associations, as well as municipal and provincial governments, have helped fund pilot programs across Canada.

Sustainable solutions for the 21st-century farmer

Today, Cleanfarms has six programs — permanent and pilot — to recover ag-waste. The collection program for empty crop protection containers will celebrate its 30th anniversary in 2019 and is available nationwide. Cleanfarms has other programs to collect non-refillable bulk containers, unwanted pesticides and old livestock medications, silage bags and wrap, twine, and seed bags.

While it’s really up to individual farmers to decide how they dispose of their waste, “our studies and programs show that when farmers are offered convenient opportunities to manage their waste, they choose the option that helps them contribute to cleaner farms and cleaner communities,” says Friesen.

Farmers are making good use of the programs. Since Cleanfarms’ inception, they have collected 120 million empty plastic containers, 3 million kg of unwanted pesticides, 40,000 kg of old livestock medication, and 924,000 kg of empty crop protection and empty seed bags. Recycled plastic materials are made into new products like farm drainage tiles and garbage bags.