Recycling must be done for right reasons

By Calvin Daniels / Estevan Mercury
January 30, 2012 01:00 AM

The business of garbage, and the idea of protecting the environment is becoming an interesting one.
The idea of recycling is becoming a major public desire. People feel good about recycling, having the impression at least it is their small, direct, contribution to aiding old Mother Earth.

The idea of recycling is even becoming entrenched in the area of farming.

Recently the government of Saskatchewan announced it was partnering with CleanFARMS to develop a way to manage on-farm plastic waste, such as bale wrap and grain bags.

The idea is to reduce the environmental footprint of farming in the province, and of course win some points since anything tied to reducing waste is seen as a positive by most people these days. Tagging the term "environmentally positive" to anything is good politics.

We see that in the world of retail where the sale of reusable cloth bags and similar efforts garner a lot of positive advertising.

"We know that farmers are more than willing to participate in stewardship programs where they exist; they want to do the right thing. CleanFARMS currently operates a national empty pesticide container recycling program and an obsolete pesticide collection program, both of which have very high participation rates," said Barry Friesen, general manager of CleanFARMS in a release.

The government, of course, sees it as a good step.

"We are pleased to see industry, government and the broader stakeholder community work together to develop a recycling program for farmers," said Saskatchewan Environment Minister Dustin Duncan in the same release.

According to the release, CleanFARMS recently did a study of the agricultural waste stewardship programs in the province. The research revealed that the most successful programs had government legislation mandating participation such as those to manage used oil, oil filters and their containers, tires, paint and electronics.

The government of Saskatchewan has tasked CleanFARMS with bringing together stakeholders to develop the framework for a program to recycle agricultural plastics such as bale wrap, twine and grain bags.

If you read between the lines, expect environmental fees to be added to some farm products moving forward, and mandated recycling.

The question that needs to be answered is exactly what the environmental footprint of recycling is.
A farmer at Hyas, Sask. has a pile of plastic from bale twine and grain bags. What does it cost in fuel, tire wear, road maintenance, and similar costs to get that plastic from the farm to some place that can actually recycle it into something useable?

It may appear the "right" thing to do is to recycle, but the collection system from farmers spread across the entire province to a central location for re-use is a system that is automatically a costly one, and it also assumes there is a user for the products in the province.

As has been a past situation with regard to cardboard, the user is not local. At times it has meant the cardboard had to get as far as China to be utilized.

Does taking cardboard from Hyas to China to recycle it make sense?

Probably not if you started to put the actual costs to the equation rather than just doing it because we deem recycling automatically a good thing.

In the release Friesen stated, "Saskatchewan is an innovative province that is well positioned to become a leader in agricultural plastics recycling. In many cases, the technology is already in place. Bridon Corage, a highly successful twine manufacturer with a plant in the province, is currently making new twine out of used twine."

For anything designed to recycle farm plastics to make sense it has to have an end user in the province.

And, any plan should have some cost analysis associated with it. Recycling must be good for the overall environment, not something we do just because we assume it's a good thing.

© Copyright Estevan Mercury


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