Expanding waste-free agriculture

Reflections from an innovative ag recycler

By Jennifer Jackson

Bale wrap was a problem for Lynn Leavitt, a farmer in Prince Edward County. The bigger problem for Leavitt: the fact that there was no solution – no place to get the wrap processed and no system to get the wrap from the farm to the processor.

“I spent a summer baling hay, thinking ‘how can we get the bale wrap (transformed) into a product that can be taken away easily,’” says Leavitt. “We’ve been using plastic on our hay for a long time, (yet) nobody has fixed the problem (of how to dispose of it properly).”

Leavitt was driven not only by a sense of environmental responsibility but also by consumer pressure, as he markets beef locally.

“The consumers (were) asking questions such as ‘what do you do with that bale wrap,’” he says. “You need to have the right answer – we can’t keep piling (waste) up.”

After brainstorming with other local farmers, Leavitt eventually came up with a bale wrap compacting system. The compactor crushes the wrap into a square bale for easier transportation.

Leavitt coordinates the collection and sending of the baled plastic to Tri County Plastics, a plastic processor in Brighton. The processor will convert the waste back into reusable plastic.

“Bale wrap on hay is much like irrigation in the summer – it’s a valuable tool, but you just like to know you are (using) it in an efficient and sustainable manner,” says Leavitt.

bale wrap

    Photo credit: Taina Sohlman/iStockPhoto/GettyImagesPlus

The first step to creating other innovative solutions for agricultural waste is education, according to Leavitt.

“You first have to educate yourself on the problem (you have identified) as much as possible. Then, you just start making noise,” he says. “You may have a vision down the road for what you want to accomplish but remember you have to start somewhere – start making phone calls, ask lots of questions.”

After an educated starting point, you move forward step-by-step, identifying and solving speedbumps along the way.

Leavitt believes some urban and rural people struggle with their attitudes toward waste produced by others. He compares this struggle to a windy day that blows garbage bins every which way. “You don’t often see anyone clean up someone else’s mess,” says Leavitt. “It’s the attitude of ‘someone else’s problem’ that we need to overcome.

“Our challenge now is getting more people on board,” says Leavitt. “Farmers are asked to do a lot today – more financial burdens and more issues to be concerned about. However, we can’t get discouraged and turn away from those challenges.”

The bale wrap collection and supply chain is currently awaiting finalization of processing details. BF

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