© 2024 WRVO Public Media
NPR News for Central New York
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Madison County recycling agriculture plastics

Ellen Abbott/WRVO

Madison County hopes to become a hub for the recycling of agricultural plastics.  It's a waste that's created on farms that's been a problem for years.

The ABC Dairy Farm in Canastota, New York, uses large amounts of plastic to protect large piles of cattle feed from becoming wet and moldy.  When they're done with it, they throw it away, says Rich Carrier, who handles the outdoor crops for his father's family farm.   "This is a daily thing. Plastic coming off the bunk. Every day you have to cut plastic back a little bit as you're eating through the face. You don't want to uncover it too soon."

Carrier says it amounts to about a quarter of all the waste they pay to dispose of every week. This ag trash also used to be buried or burned on farms.  So putting it into the recycling stream, has been on the radar of the New York State Farm Bureau for a while, says field advisor John Wagner. But there was always one big roadblock.

"It's been a problem figuring out a way to recycle ag plastics, because they always wanted the plastics so clean, and obviously ag plastic used on farms, the plastic gets dirty.  It's hard to get it to the clean point where they want it and they can use it for products that they make plastic furniture with and things like that.  They want the plastic extremely clean," said Wagner.

Enter a company in western New York that has figured out how to recycle plastic that is not pristine.  Wagner says JBI Inc., in Niagara Falls, will recycle this plastic.  "This process that JBI has," said Wagner,"they're able to take this plastic a little bit dirtier and they're gonna turn it into a product that our farmers can turn around and use at the other end -- diesel fuel."

Madison County officials heard about JBI, and Jim Zecca, head of the county's solid waste program says it became an obvious fit.

"We took a field trip out to JBI and they proved that they could do it and make it economically feasible, and meet all the federal and state requirements. And they did. They got permitted and the rest is history," said Zecca. "We signed a contract with them and will now be supplying them with material."

This new agricultural plastic drop-off program means that farmers can deposit materials at one of the county transfer stations or the landfill, and it will be transported to Niagara Falls, where JBI will turn it into diesel fuel. Carrier thinks it'll catch on.

"I think that you'll see farms adopt this rather quickly especially given it's a least-cost option and an environmental friendly one," said Carrier.

This is a pilot project, but Zecca is hoping ag waste from nearby counties will become part of the recycling stream and the program will progress from there.

"Our ultimate goal is to try to lure the company JBI to set up an operation at our agricultural renewable energy park at the landfill site and hopefully that will open it up to the entire region to try and solve this problem," said Zecca.

Expanding the program beyond Madison County could have profound effects. Experts figure every head of beef or dairy cattle in New York state generates eight pounds of this ag plastic a year.  And with 700,000 head of beef or dairy cattle in the state, that translates into 2,800 tons of waste a year.

Lois Levitan, program leader of the Recycling Ag Plastics Project at Cornell University says New York state has always been a leader in recycling ag waste. But she says the impact of this takes it to a different level.

"People used to think it was progressive to talk about cradle-to-grave of products.  So the cradle would be making the plastics, and the grave would be, what do you do at the end," said Levitan. "Now they're talking about cradle-to-cradle -- how do you make it into something else?  How do you have zero waste?"

Ellen produces news reports and features related to events that occur in the greater Syracuse area and throughout Onondaga County. Her reports are heard regularly in regional updates in Morning Edition and All Things Considered.