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September 3, 2013

Totes to help farmers recycle plastic

By Cheryl Petersen Contributing Writer
The Daily Star

---- — Kermit the Frog sang “It’s Not Easy Being Green,” but for Delaware County farmers, it just got a whole lot easier. 

Cornell Cooperative Extension of Delaware County is rolling out a simpler way for farmers to participate in a program that recycles waste plastic. The Recycling Agricultural Plastics Project, which began as a pilot project in Delaware County in May, is a program of the statewide Extension service. 

Since 2009, Cornell University Waste Management has been working with Extension Offices to enlist farmers in RAPP. Farmers are trained to prepare plastics for recycling. The plastics are baled to reduce air pockets and make for better transportation. 

Many farmers and Extension staff people are trained to operate mobile BigFoot plastic balers, located around the state. The baler is serving farmers in Otsego County, where the Otsego County Conservation Association is heading up the RAPP program. (For information on Otsego’s program, call Travis Sauerwald of OCCA at 282-4087.)

“But the BigFoot baler has to be scheduled, and time use is limited,” said Larry Burgin, dairy farmer in Fraser. 

So the Delaware County office is now offering tote bags to participating farms. According to Delaware CCE director Mariane Kiraly, farmers can fill the totes with used plastic at their convenience, and turn them in when they’re full. 

“The program in Delaware County has moved a few steps closer to more efficiency,” Kiraly said of the change. 

Burgin praised the switch, noting that “The tote method is more accessible. It allows us to store the plastics on the farm, and we can do it on a daily basis.”

The purpose of the totes is to keep the plastic clean and remove the step of coordinating the use of a mobile baler or any baler at all. “When they are full, we take the totes to the Delaware County landfill station in Walton,” Burgin said. 

CCE has collabored with Delaware County Waste Management to store the totes on site until they can be delivered for recycling. 

“When we have a truckload, a shipment will be made to the recycle plant in Auburn,” said Sue McIntyre, Director of Delaware County Waste Management.

 Each tote can weigh up to 500 pounds; a truck can carry 20,000 pounds. 

The entire operation is cost-neutral to the county, but McIntyre hopes to see that change. 

“Currently, the truck delivery cost will be absorbed by the recycler in Auburn,” McIntyre said. “Although recycling farm plastic doesn’t generate any revenue yet, the Delaware County Waste Management has successfully and profitably entering the recycling market with other products. Recycling is the future and as the farmers follow the standard it will become a valid market.”

And for farmers who participate in the program, disposing of plastic for free is a welcome change from the status quo. During economic lows, landfill costs deter some farmers from disposing of the plastics. Plastic that isn’t disposed of in a landfill might wind up being illegally burned, or simply left on the farm.

“The RAPP is a legal and more sustainable alternative as to what to do with the farm plastics,” McIntyre said. “Otherwise, it will cost $87 per ton to dispose the plastics in the landfill.”

Kiraly acknowledged that, for some farmers, getting into the habit of turning in their totes will be an adjustment. 

 “It will be a catch-up for some farmers who haven’t taken the plastics to the landfill on a regular basis,” she said. “But, there is no cost to the farmers to get rid of the plastics when they belong to the recycling program.”

While there is no price tag attached, some training is necessary. Kiraly, who was trained through Cornell along with Janet Aldrich, explains that plastic must be clean and separated in accordance with certain guidelines.  

“It’s not difficult, it’s just a defined process that needs to be incorporated into the farm routine,” she said.

 A laminated instruction sign, specific to recycling dairy plastics, will be left on the farm for quick reference.

The pilot program that began in May was deemed a success, and the local Extension office is actively recruiting farmers to sign up. 

 “Farmers can email me and I will come to their farm for recruitment and training,” said Mariane Kiraly, who can be reached at mk129@cornell.edu.