AgPac Recycling Farm Plastics

April 2010

A recycling scheme being developed to handle agricultural plastic waste

AgPac is the largest supplier of farm plastics in the country. Used balewrap often ends up being burned or buried, but AgPac initiated a collection and recycling system that got under way in 2006. Recent developments are the wider establishment of collection systems in most dairying areas, the development of a baler to compress the bales of used wrap into smaller units, and the establishment of a plant to shred, wash and process the wrap into plastic pellets for recycling into other plastic products.

Chris Hartshorne – Briefly describes and quantifies the problem and outlines AgPac’s “product stewardship” approach to it, the progress achieved so far, and the likely future developments.

Robert McCarthy – describes the collection system, how the baler works and how it improves transport efficiency.

Angus Winstone – describes the shredding washing heating process to produce recycled plastic pellets, throughput, markets and likely products made from recycled bale wrap, plus take-home message to farmers to ensure the wrap is as clean and free from contaminants as possible.

AgPac is New Zealand’s largest supplier of crop packaging products. The main one is the baleage wrap for feed conservation. The company’s venture into recycling comes from the drive for product stewardship – manufacturers, suppliers and users taking responsibility for their products once they become waste. Legislation came into force last year begin to shift the cost of disposal from society at large to the people who actually benefit from using products that ends up as waste.

AgPac anticipated this move some years ago and has been working since for nearly four years to develop a workable scheme for dealing with bale wrap, which is very visible on farms and has been a real disposal problem for farmers, often dealt with by the environmentally unfriendly methods of burying or burning.

They introduced a bin and liner system in 2006 – a large recycled plastic bin with a lid to keep out rain, lined with a clear plastic liner. Chris Hartshorne says that it was either produce a workable scheme or have a levy put on the cost of the wrap to fund collection – a system that has been ineffective overseas.

“We know how to handle the product and our system benefits the whole industry,” says Chris.

“Farmers clean the bale wrap as best they can and load it into the bin – about 200 wraps per liner. A regional contractor collects it and takes it back to a depot where it may be compressed to reduce volume and the cost of transport to the plastics recycling plant,” says Chris.

“And it’s working. The first year we collected 9 tonnes, the next year 80 tonnes, the third year 130 tonnes and in the six months from July last year we collected over 200 tonnes so there has been a huge increase in both the tonnage collected and the number of farmers taking part. This is benefiting the whole industry.”

Farmers have a choice – pay for a recycling scheme or use a box of matches. Gradually the mindset has changed and today farmers are becoming more environmentally responsible and more and more are appreciating that there is real long term benefit in recycling.

“Every bin we sell and every time we collect means that more farmers will come into the scheme because they can see it is real and sustainable and it keeps happening, and so it is easier for them to accept the collection model,” says Chris.

“We now have about 600 bins on farms throughout the country and we have collectors throughout the country, particularly in all the main dairy regions – Waikato, Taranaki, Canterbury and Southland is one of our really big growth areas with 80 bins down there at the moment.”

With the volume of liners arriving consolidation became an issue, so AgPac invested $60,000 in the first baler which is in use at Matamata. The Tai Tapu model is the second. Each baler can compress six full liners into the space occupied by one, thus making material much easier to handle and reducing transport costs substantially. The balers are transportable, so one option is to take them to the regional collection points to consolidate the liners before shipment.

The next issue was what to do with the collected material, and New Zealand has been very short of plastic recycling facilities for farm films, says Chris.

“Farm films are technically very difficult to recycle because they are very thin and they need washing, and it is only since that we got this tie-up with Mastagard that we were able to deliver a truly sustainable solution, ie. deal with the material here in New Zealand,” he says.

Mastagard has recently commissioned New Zealand’s first full ‘closed circuit’ plastic recycling facility aimed at reducing the export of “dirty” plastics. It can process all low and high density polyethylenes (LDPE & HDPE) and polyethylene terephthalate (PET). This includes agricultural wraps as well as many other waste streams like plastic containers of all many sorts, shrink wrap, hoses etc.

Mastagard general manager Sebastian Stapleton says that the processing equipment includes a custom-designed washing and drying line with incorporated shredder developed by the company. The system can treat up to 8 tonnes of raw material per hour, or 192 tonnes per day.

The process is completed using an Austrian designed Erema TVE Extruder that produces recycled, refined, ready-to-use high-grade plastic pellets, ready for supply to both domestic manufacturers and overseas markets. It has a potential output of 4,200 tonnes per year.

Mastagard is also working closely with Canterbury University and AgResearch to develop new and exiting products from recycled materials.

The advantage to Mastagard of the used bale wrap is that it is consistent, and that simplifies processing. However, it needs to be as clean as possible and free from excess dirt and other contaminants.

Says Chris: “To be economic the whole process needs more farmers to be involved so that more plastic wrap can be collected. However, it’s essential that farmers are careful that they put only bale wrap into the bins. We don’t want to be dealing with dirt and muck and all the stuff we used to get when we first started collections – loose plastic, containers, dead animals, engine blocks, scarecrows, you name it, we found it in the bin.”

“If everyone takes reasonable care we can have an efficient, workable and economic system that benefits the whole industry.”