Agricultural plastics — such as silage bags, bale wrap, bunker covers and oxygen barriers — protect livestock feed from moisture and contamination, but can also contribute to excess garbage around farms once they’ve outlived their intended purpose.
According to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, 15 to 20 pounds of agricultural plastics are generated per cow every year. That’s a lot of plastic around the farm.
Managing large plastic sheets is a major headache and cost for Wisconsin farmers, and agriculture plastic cannot be burned according to Wisconsin law.
Unlike other types of plastics like soda bottles and milk jugs, plastic that has been used on the farm is less desirable to recyclers because ag plastics are made of lightweight material and tend to be dirty.
However, some companies like Revolution Plastics of Madison will provide farms with dumpsters used specifically for recycling ag plastics and will pick up the plastics from the farm free of charge.
This service saves the farm the expense of having to pay for disposing the plastic in a dumpster that ends up in a landfill. The plastic is then sorted, washed and recycled into new products such as shopping bags, can liners, irrigation piping and plastic sheeting.
Since the fall of 2017, 48 Jackson County farms have received recycling dumpsters, collecting more than 165,000 pounds of recycled plastic. In Jackson, Trempealeau and Clark counties, more than 800,000 pounds of plastic were recycled in 2017. Revolution Plastics estimates an average of 40 million pounds of plastic will be recycled annually from the 4,000 farms participating in the program in Wisconsin and Minnesota alone.
Recycling all that plastic is better for our environment, but it also eases costs for farms and municipalities. The average cost to landfill plastic is approximately $40 per ton. Farms hauling plastic from the farm or paying for a service to remove the plastic may pay $20 to $30 per ton in hauling costs. A conservative estimate to remove and landfill this plastic is $1,500 to $2,000 annually per average farm.
Farmers interested in free on-farm pick up of agriculture plastics can register on the Revolution Plastics website.
There are additional options for farms waiting to receive a recycling dumpster. Revolution Plastics Recapture Bag program is an option for smaller amounts of plastic. The bags are sold in packages of five and each holds approximately 200 pounds of plastic. When the content of the five bags reaches 1,000 pounds, the farm can receive free pick-up. Interested farms can contact revolutionplastics.com or the Jackson, Trempealeau or Clark County UW-Extension office for more information.