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Agassiz’s agricultural plastics program heading to the dump, unless province steps in

Kent Agricultural Plastics Recycling has nowhere to go, hopes B.C. will create a recycling program
District of Kent farmers brought truckloads of used plastic to the Schwichtenburg farm Oct. 26, 2018, for pickup by Kent Agricultural Plastics Recycling, a grassroots, farmer-initiated organization that collects and distributes used plastics for recycling. (Nina Grossman/The Observer)

The plastics Agassiz dairy farmers have been dutifully recycling for years now have nowhere left to go.

Dave Hastie, chairman of Kent Agricultural Plastics Recycling, said that after seven years, depots are no longer accepting agricultural plastics for recycling and the thousands of pounds of material will be heading to the Bailey dump for two more hauls. After that, if nothing changes, the project will be over.

“It’s disgusting this is going on, the government cannot pick up the lead we’ve kept going here and establish some kind of a program,” Hastie said, adding that a future for the organization “would definitely involve them.”

The plastic recycling project got its start as a pilot project with the Fraser Valley Regional District and District of Kent, to help divert agricultural plastics from the landfill. When the pilot project ended in 2014, Kent Agricultural Plastics Recycling began to keep the initiative going.

RELATED: Agassiz farmers dig into pockets to recycle plastics

Dairy farmers stored one-tonne bags of plastic on their properties, gathering the silo covers, bale twine and feed bags over a few months. When Kent Agricultural Plastics Recycling came to pick up the plastics, the farmers would pay $20 for the delivery of their one-tonne bag of recycling to the depot.

“These farmers are collecting the plastics, which is the hardest part of the program, and bringing them in,” Hastie said about the beginning of the program. “And we thought, we’ll attempt to establish a model for the province and continue on with it in hopes that they will pick it up and produce a stewardship program for recycling plastics.”

Over the last seven years, the organization has delivered 211 tonnes of plastics to recycling depots. However, depots are no longer accepting the agricultural plastics.

RELATED: Plastic glut grows as China turns back dirty recyclables

According to a 2019 study by CleanFarms, the company that oversees Alberta’s agricultural plastics recycling program, import restrictions in Asia have caused an oversupply of product in North America. One facility in Canada and one in the United States are able to recycle grain bags, and there are two more facilities in the United States that can handle twine.

The oversupply combined with the lack of end uses for recycled agricultural plastics has resulted in a very limited market — giving Kent Agricultural Plastics Recycling nowhere to go.

“All this market has said, no we don’t want anymore, we can’t handle it. So now, the only place it can go is Bailey’s,” Hastie said.

Currently, the organization has enough money in reserve to cover the additional cost of dumping the plastics at the Bailey Landfill rather than recycling them for a few more pick ups. (Because the recycling is sent from the depot to a producer who pays for the recycled materials to make new product, the drop off it cheaper at the depot than the landfill.) But after that, things will go back to the way it used to be, with farmers burning their plastics or throwing them in the bin.

Hastie is hoping the provincial government will act now to institute a B.C.-wide recycling program for farmers, as are others in the District of Kent.

RELATED: Canada to ban single-use plastics in 2021

During Monday night’s council meeting, Kent council voted to once again send a letter in support of the Kent Agricultural Plastics Recycling, this time to MLA Kelli Paddon. Council had sent letters about the project before, and received a response from the Minister of Environment and Climate Change Strategy, George Heyman.

The letter noted that “tackling plastic waste and pollution remains a provincial priority,” but did not identify any concrete actions to deal with agricultural plastics.

“The ministry acknowledges that proper management of plastics and packaging from the ICI sector is a challenge and is working to explore new regulatory or policy approaches to better manage these materials,” Heyman wrote, adding that the province developed a Recycling Regulations Policy Intentions Paper last year, which would help inform changes in the future.

Counc. Duane Post did not have high hopes for the intentions paper.

“Eventually something will come out of it,” he said during council. “I just don’t know if it will be in my lifetime.”

For Hastie, and others at Kent Agricultural Plastics Recycling, it feels like now or never.

“The farmers will have to just put the plastic in their bins, their garbage bins,” Hastie said. “To have it end like this is absolutely sinful.”

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