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Recycling Agricultural Plastics: A Way Of Saving Energy & Conserving The Environment
6 years, 6 months ago Posted in: Industry News 1

Each year thousands of tons of discarded agricultural plastics are burned, buried or dumped. The result is bad news for both the economy and the environment. Volatile toxic compounds pollute the air and debris clogs waterways, while recycling plastic waste could save energy and reduce dependence on foreign oil.

moistureshield_picIn rural areas, there are almost no recycling programs in place that would make it feasible for producers to consider the reuse of silage wraps, net wraps or any other plastic used in agricultural processes on a daily basis. Many producers don’t see any other option than burning these materials. However, as with any plastic compound, burning plastics in an open fire will create hazardous compounds, such as carbon monoxide.

Apart from air-polluting emissions, particulate matter can settle in the lungs of bystanders. Depending on the temperature of the fire, toxic compounds including polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons can be released that are known to have mutagenic and carcinogenic effects.

Unfortunately, materials like bale wrap end up in roadside ditches or stream channels where they can seriously hold up the flow of water by being the perfect trap for driftwood or any other material. Debris in these areas can then become choking hazards for livestock and wildlife and create breeding grounds for mosquitoes or rodents.

Net wrap in particular gives some hay producers headaches, but this material has undeniable positive attributes. Usually made from high density polyethylene (HDPE), net wrap has allowed farmers to bale hay more efficiently than with twine and to store these bales with less damage outside in case a barn or shed is not available.

A few producers have switched to using biodegradable bale twine instead to get around the problem of lacking recycling options for net wrap. However, switching from net wrap to twine may be unfavorable in the long run from the perspective of farm economics. Research at the University of Wisconsin has shown that outside bale storage losses with net wrap are reduced compared with twine wrap. Net-wrapped hay also has a greater appeal and marketability, especially with the newer cover-edge wrap.

There are companies in Arkansas that have made the pitch to provide producers with recycling options for used agricultural plastics. One example is Delta Plastics in Little Rock, known for reclaiming used irrigation pipes. In Northwest Arkansas, Advanced Environmental Recycling Technologies, Inc. (AERT) of Springdale considers providing landowners with the opportunity to recycle their used agricultural plastics in the near future.

Besides obvious environmental advantages of recollecting used plastics, recycling is also beneficial from an energy and economic viewpoint, says Al Drinkwater, a representative with AERT. “Producing agricultural plastics and film from crude oil requires large amounts of energy,” he notes, and explains that for the production of the same amount of plastic from recycled material, only half of the energy would be needed. What’s lacking, in his opinion, is an infrastructure that facilitates the collection and transport of discarded agricultural plastics. “The challenge is to make the transport of recyclable plastic economically feasible,” he says, “considering the high surface-to-weight ratio of most materials used in agriculture that require some sort of dense packing.”

Drinkwater encourages rural communities to develop strategies for collecting agricultural plastics. “Our goal is certainly to turn plastic waste that currently has a ‘negative economic value’ into a compound with a ‘positive economic value’ for the benefit of producers and the communities they live in.”

With a reliable recycling network for agricultural plastics yet to be established, the next best thing producers can do is to meticulously collect and discard used net wrap with the household trash. Although it is nobody’s favorite job to unwrap bales during dark, cold winter days, the net should be removed entirely and securely stowed away on the pickup truck or in the tractor when moving around the farm.

The net wrap should then be put into designated trash bags that can be picked up by your local waste collection company. With a routine in place, fields, ditches and stream channels are kept free of plastics, and a good collection scheme will be in place once a recycling market for agricultural plastics gets established in your area.

Source: Dr. Dirk Philipp, Assistant Professor, University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture

About Advanced Environmental Recycling Technologies, Inc.
Since 1989, A.E.R.T. has pioneered the use of recycled polyethylene plastic in the manufacture of composite building materials. With its constantly evolving portfolio of patented and proprietary recycling technologies, A.E.R.T. has been widely recognized as a leader in resource conservation innovation and received the EPA Award for Environmental Excellence for its process of converting scrap plastic to composite outdoor decking. A.E.R.T. converts reclaimed plastic and wood fiber waste into quality outdoor decking systems, fence systems, and door and window components.  For more information on the MoistureShield Juniper Collection or A.E.R.T., please contact A.E.R.T. Customer Service at 1-866-729-2378. Additional information can also be found online at or

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