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Vermont Program Recycles Farm Plastics

Montpelier — A new pilot program in Vermont will allow farmers to recycle the plastics they accumulate for free at various locations statewide.

Vermont dairy farms generate about 500 tons of plastic annually from the wrap around hay bales, covers feed bunks and other uses, but much of the plastic ends up at the landfill, at a cost to farmers. The new program will let farmers recycle that plastic, along with greenhouse film, nursery pots and trays, and tubing used by maple syrup producers.

Any of the clean, dry material can be recycled through April in Middlebury, Montpelier, Highgate, Bennington and Hyde Park.

“You’ve got to pay for the plastic to get it, and then you have to pay to get rid of it, so if you can keep it clean and recycle it, at least you don’t have to pay to get rid of it,” said Jim Doyle, an organic dairy farmer in Chelsea.

He estimates he has spent about $200 a year to get rid of the plastic from his round bales. Now, he’s been compacting and stockpiling the plastic in a barn and plans to haul about 2 tons to Montpelier once the weather gets warmer.

The program was started by Casella Resource Solutions, the Vermont Agency of Agriculture and Agrimark/Cabot Creamery Cooperative with help from Cornell University’s Recycling Ag Plastics Project, which serves parts of New York. Wisconsin and California also have some recycling programs for farm plastics.

The recycled material will be sold and possibly turned into plastic paving stones for sidewalks, plastic plywood, pellets and trash bags.

Many farmers now pay to dispose of the plastic, but some bury it and others burn it, which is illegal in Vermont because it’s toxic, said Annie MacMillan, toxicologist with the Vermont Agency of Agriculture. The plastics recycling program was started to deal with waste that was not being addressed on farms, she said.

“It’s something that we should be really looking at as a resource on the farm versus a waste,” she said.

In addition to the dairy farms, beef farms use about 77 tons of plastics annually and syrup producers generate 160 tons of maple tubing a year, MacMillan said.

The challenge in recycling it for some farmers will be to keep the plastic clean. Doyle takes his bales into the barn, where they are unwrapped as the hay is fed to the cows. The used plastic is then stored in the barn so it doesn’t get soiled.

“The issue is it has to be relatively clean, so farmers can’t be bringing in dirty, muddy material,” MacMillan said.