MOUNTAIN VIEW COUNTY - County council has been updated on the work of the multi-stakeholder Ag Plastics Research Committee at Olds College, which is looking at ways to improve and enhance the recycling of net wrap and other plastic products used in farming and ranching.
Meagan Wong is an adaptation resiliency training intern student at the University of Alberta, with a placement at Olds College. She appeared before council as a delegation, outlining the committee’s recent activities and plans going forward.
As part of her internship at the college she has been preparing a white paper focused on ag plastics recycling. Student Raiyan Zahid is also involved in the same project.
The committee is made up of various stakeholders, including Mountain View County. It is currently focused on defining a research project that the college could undertake to address issues around ag plastic recycling, including the need to reduce or eliminate waste.
Wong and Zahid have prepared a white paper proposal document as part of that initiative.
“We have reached out to 17 stakeholder groups and received responses from seven of them, including the government of Alberta, Alberta Beef Producers, two different plastic recycling companies, two different plastic manufacturing companies, and one farming operation near Olds that uses net wrap currently,” Wong said.
Through the stakeholder input gathered, organizers identified a number of barriers to the recycling of ag plastics.
“So information we got from them was that the main obstacles to recycling that wrap was the level of contamination in using that wrap in comparison to other types of ag plastics and this is because of the structure, that it is composed of more than one different type of plastic,” she said.
“The structure also makes if difficult to recycle in the same way that grain bags or twine would be recycled at existing facilities. There are also doubts about the economic value of recycling net wrap, which is why some facilities are unwilling to accept it, and the logistics of transporting and cleaning it would also cause a problem for recycling.”
Project participants determined that there is indeed an interest in improving and enhancing ag plastics recycling in the province, she said.
“What we learned from the Alberta government and Alberta Beef Producers is that they are very interested in regulating ag plastics the same way that single-use plastics are currently being regulated under extended producer responsibility legislation, which would allow plastic producing companies to help fund recycling and management of the plastics after they have been used,” she said.
“They also think there needs to be more education for farmers around recycling and why it is important and what facilities and resources are available to them.
“And they also believe that for net wrap specifically, the solutions must come from the research industry and from the industry themselves since they know their product better than anyone.”
Project officials discussed the economic viability of recycling with stakeholders.
“We spoke to the two recycling companies and they said that they cannot accept net wrap because the composition makes it not economically viable to recycle for them and it’s not a good business model for them, so that’s why they don’t accept it,” she said.
The local producer contacted through the process said separating the net wrap from other ag plastics is difficult for smaller operators, she said.
Project officials decided to include two ideas in the white paper, she said.
“The first one would be the one we are trying to get funding for right now from the provincial AFC (Ag Funding Consortium) and this project idea would be to test biodegradable or digestible net wrap products on farms in Alberta to see whether they have comparable performance and durability to conventional plastic net wrap,” she said.
“This project would involve identifying and reaching out to plastic producing companies and also new companies that have products that they want to test that are either digestible by animals or biodegradable.
“(Second) our project would identify any cleaning tools or methods where plastics are currently at recycling facilities and see if they can be modified and applied to net wrap and maybe from the recycling end of this we could see if that would make a difference for being able to actually recycle used net wrap.”
Sean Thompson, manager of the technology access centre for livestock production at Olds College, said the committee has applied to the AFC consortium for funding for the $200,000 Evaluation of Biodegradable and Edible Bale Net Wrap Alternatives for the Reduction of Agricultural Plastics Waste project.
He says if funding is approved, work could get underway next spring.
“There are some hard to or impossible to recycle plastics that are having to be either burned or landfilled, so that is why net wrap in particular was highlighted for this focus,” said Thompson.
“We are hoping to hear back (about funding) by early June. And with the funding process it will then go to a full proposal, which would then be reviewed, and then if successful work could begin as early as next spring.”
Local producers would be involved in the project, he said.
Mountain View County Reeve Angela Aalbers commended those involved in the project.
“I think this is going to give a lot of credit to our agricultural community and I hope everyone understands how important our agriculture community is with respect to this recycling and if we can get a handle on one it I think it’s going to really improve the lives of everyone,” said Aalbers.
The white paper itself is scheduled to be made public in the next few weeks, Thompson said.
Council received the report as information.