A Houston company recently contacted some horticulture industry folks about recycling drip tape. While their idea didn’t work out, the question sparked some interest into where is recycling of plastics in horticulture in MO?
Use of plastics in horticulture has been hugely beneficial to growers. Greenhouses are cheaper to cover. The various trays, liner, and pots are highly efficient. Anyone remember growing in clay pots? That died in the 80s. Use of black plastic mulch coupled with drip tape has resulted in yield increases of up to 4X.
So plastics are here to stay and the once used material is a disposal problem, a recycling issue or a case of reusing. Only for certain greenhouse trays and containers are reuse practical. (See this months article on sanitizing greenhouses.) So for drip tape, greenhouse film and plastic mulch, the options are either recycling or landfilling.
In Missouri these plastics should not be burned. Only household quantities of plastics are allowed for burning, and once a crop is grown and sold from these plastics, it is of commercial quantity. Commercially generated plastics are also forbidden from private land disposal.
Realizing that, we looked for a community which has set a disposal process that could serve as a model for others. Rich Hill developed this approach many years ago. They have 2 large roll off boxes dropped off in different locations that are convenient to many. They are delivered in early September and are left until the end of October. There has not been a problem of individuals taking advantage of these boxes and putting in garbage.
One person (each) handles the payment for a roll off box. That person then collects from growers using it, who pay a rate per acre. It is then taken to a local landfill.
Given enough responses, we will be able to give results specific to a community. So the more that reply, the better. That way you can understand what are the most popular varieties and why at the different auctions (including your own) and the average for the entire state.
We hope to be able to share the results in either the winter or spring newsletter. The results aren't likely to be in time to have anyone adjust their planting for 2014 (that's why its called a planting intention survey), but it might give you something to think about as the season progresses, and may assist you for the 2015 year. While recycling of plastic didn’t work for Missouri this year, it may in the future. A major limitations to the value of these materials is they are dirty; that was why the Houston company only wanted drip tape. Separating drip tape from the mulch film may require an extra step as these are pulled up, some growers informed me. The materials are also heavy, thus transportation can quickly erode their value.
I learned that New Jersey is one of the leading states for recycling of drip tape and plastic mulch, their program serving as an example to other states. On transportation they have an advantage, it is a small state, with concentrated vegetable acreage, and facilities that reuse the materials are nearby. They are also highly populated and regulations on dumping or burning would be more stringently enforced. Hard to burn it when an environmental activist would jump to report you!
For greenhouse film they have 2 collection sites and for drip tape and plastic mulch they have 4. Both are open year round. Vehicles that transport these products direct from the farm do not have to meet more strict waste hauling requirements. There are instructions on how to bundle the materials. Greenhouse film collection sites charge $20 per ton to receive the material (called tipping fee). Drip tape and mulch were more difficult to assess. Only one site quoted a price, and then only for drip tape- $30 per ton. They said this was 1/2 the typical landfill cost. Another site said their tipping charge averaged 24% less than landfill cost. A third site said they would have a lower tipping fee for plastic mulch and drip tape if separated, but could take them together. Lastly, the fourth site offered to pick up the material, and asked for photos of the product and then would quote a price. One could imagine that would be pretty efficient, to run a truck around to growers close together.
So these materials have ‘no real value’ as a material. They just cost less to dispose of, if at a recycle facility. And likely strong enforcement of burning or improper disposal has forced growers into having a strong interest to participate. Nonetheless it is good to see a state making headway on recycling of spent horticultural plastics.
Publications Used for Article:
Facts on Open Burning Under Missouri Regulations, http://www.dnr.mo.gov/pubs/pub2047.pdf
New Jersey Agricultural Recycling Programs, http://www.nj.gov/agriculture/divisions/md/prog/recycling.html
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REVISED: November 24, 2015