By Elizabeth Hart
A NEW project to recycle silage wrap has started in the Shire of Cardinia and neighbouring municipalities to reduce tonnes of plastic ending up in landfill.
Under the project, called Plasback, farmers who have enlisted to participate are recycling plastic silage wrap free of charge, knowing that it will stay in Australia for processing.
A spin-off is its contribution to employment.
The project transforms plastic silage wrap to a raw material for new products.
Waste education officer, Ella Boyen, said the system would be environmentally friendly and a low-cost solution for farmers and the council.
Silage wrap is often buried on farms or burned because of landfill disposal costs, she said.
Westernport Catchment Landcare Network project officer Peter Ronalds said word was spreading about the system and eventually most farmers would catch on.
“In the past, silage wrap was difficult to recycle because there were only a few collection sites where farmers could drop off the waste plastic a couple of days a year,” he said.
The project is a partnership between councils and the Australian and New Zealand crop packaging plastics supplier, Tapex Pty Ltd, which produces mostly polymer-based extrusion products and is one of the largest producers of twine.
Westernport Catchment Landcare Network and Gippsland Regional Waste Management Group are promoting the program and assisting in its implementation.
It is one of several new attempts to recycle farm waste, which includes the drummuster system of recycling empty farm chemical and animal supplement containers.
The success of drummuster provided evidence that farmers would go out of their way to recycle.
Participating farmers in the Plasback scheme have received custom-designed bins to store the used wrap.
Each wrap weighs about a kilogram.
The farmers then deliver the bags of wraps to a transfer station, ready for processing.
The drop-off point in the shire is the Cardinia Waste and Recycle Centre in Exhange Drive, Pakenham.
Steering the council’s part in the project is environmental health services coordinator David Esmore.
“It’s all about making the process simple for farmers,” he said.
To the passer-by, the sight of neatly placed silage bales dotting wide-open fields might indicate that all is well on farms in times of plenty.
But management of farm waste is a cumbersome and expensive process and in the past has led to environmental abuses.
Tapex, based in New South Wales, sells thousands of tonnes of plastics every year to the agricultural sector, including baling twine, bale net, silage wrap, and covers.
The company took steps to become greener and to improve the sustainability element of its business model in 2006 when it joined a sustainability advantage program in New South Wales and at the same time launched its farm plastics recycle program in New Zealand.
“We anticipate recovering 1000 tonnes from farms in New Zealand this year,” said Ed George from Tapex’s environmental solutions division.
Farm sizes and vast distances in Australia meant that the model had to be adapted for local conditions.
“In New Zealand and the UK we have a farm gate pick up system,” Mr George said.
“This could never work here because of the much greater distances between farms. The costs of farm gate pick up would have been prohibitive.”
Ed had the idea to combine the best of the company’s New Zealand operation with other systems where the farmer dropped off the waste – the aim being to reduce freight costs.
“The next stage was downstream processing to create real value in new products,” he said.
One of those products is Tuffboard, which the Plasback bins are made of.
The recycle program took six months to develop.
“It was possible only because of assistance from Victoria’s regional waste management groups, in particular Nola Anderson and Matt Peake from the Gippsland Regional Waste Management Group,” Mr George said.
Feedback from Baw Baw Shire, which previously had its own silage wrap recycling program, and input from farmer groups, as well as what Mr George describes as “lots of trial and error”, resulted in a structure everyone was happy with.
“Hard work but very rewarding,” he said.
Tapex launched the Plasback product stewardship program in Victoria in December.
Australia lags behind some other countries in this aspect of farm waste management. The UK has been recycling for 10 years and New Zealand, under the Tapex program, for four years.
“Of the participant farmers in the silage recycling program about half were sending their used wrap to landfill and the other half were recycling,” Mr Ronalds said.
The history of silage recycling in Cardinia shire goes back five or six years, when the council set up drop off points and delivered the waste to private companies for recycling. Transportation was expensive, Mr Esmore said, and at the same time much of the waste was going off-shore for processing.
There have been many challenges along the way to streamline the process, Mr George explained.
“Several attempts had been made to recycle silage wrap in the past,” he said.
“No long-term solution had been found, so the attitude was that it had been tried by many others, and why then would we be the ones to succeed.
“Used silage wrap costs more to recover than it is worth, is hard to collect, needs to be segregated from other waste and types of plastic to be recycled in Australia, is dirty, wet, smelly, and technically difficult to process back into usable plastic.”
But the partners are optimistic.
“We encourage everyone to participate,” Mr Ronalds said.
Mr Esmore, Mr Ronalds, and Mr George said others would adopt it when they saw how easy it was.
“The farmers who see waste recovery on farm as a priority will embrace the program. Others may wait to see if it lasts,” Mr George said.
Still others might not act unless there is no cost and no effort.
Silage recycling is part of the Westernport Landcare Network’s three-year Ag-Emissions project, funded by Sustainability Victoria to reduce greenhouse emissions by 10 per cent, improve water efficiency by 15 per cent and reduce waste to landfill by 10 per cent.
Strict audits have applied to participating farmers.
“The auditors identified 15 actions to meet reduction targets,” Mr Ronalds said.
“They ranged from cheap and easy actions such as fluorescent globes to capital works such as wind turbines.
“A key factor coming out of the audits was the amount of silage wrap ending up in landfill.
“Initial reports from landholders using the system are extremely positive.”
Alongside local councils, local retailers are promoting the silage recycling program, including Elders at Pakenham, Jack and Rosie Pearson at Longwarry North, who are among the biggest sellers of silage wrap in Australia, and Brownwigg at Warragul.
The recycling model is also designed for leverage by other stakeholders within the agricultural sector, Mr George said.
The program is open to all farmers.
By Elizabeth Hart