Wednesday, December 6, 2023

Farmers’ green tinge growing

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Farmers are on a green binge recycling more waste and unwanted products through the Agrecovery scheme than ever before.
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Now the Government and agri manufacturers are working on a plan to make industry hitchhikers pay their way.

Agrecovery’s waste collection rates rose 40% in the past couple of years, the animal health and agrichem lobby group Agcarm says.

Agcarm chief executive Mark Ross said the voluntary returns amount to about 437 tonnes of products, including 11 tonnes of chemicals. The total collected was about half the product in the New Zealand market at any time.

The aim for the next few years is to lift the pick-up rate to about 80%, comparable to international rates.

The 13-year-old Agrecovery is a not-for-profit, charitable trust running 97 collection points for containers, drums and unwanted or expired chemicals.

The owners and distributors of agrichemical, animal health and dairy hygiene products pay the Agrecovery Foundation fees to cover costs, which gives programme users free access to the scheme.

Ross said some free-riders out there don’t pay the levy of 12c a litre of chemical to run the programme.

About 85-90% of eligible manufacturers and distributors are part of Agrecovery. 

Most of the remainder are smaller businesses dealing in generic products but one or two of the companies are quite large.

“Why haven’t they joined up? I guess they don’t see the value in it or they don’t want to pay the money. Twelve cents a litre could be quite a loss of profit to them if they’re operating on a small margin but we’re 100% about making everyone part of the scheme.”

Depending on a company’s sales, participants might pay the scheme tens of thousands a year. Agrecovery’s total annual operating budget, the amount coming in from levies, is about $1.5m.

“If you go drop-off points you’ll see non Agrecovery member products coming through the system and they’re sort of going through free. Sometimes they’re taken out and they go back to the supplier and they ask them for a charge. But there’s basically hitchhikers in there.”

To step up waste control and cut the freeloading the Ministry for the Environment is consulting industry groups like Agcarm on a co-design partnership to recycle or safely dispose of more products as intended under the Waste Minimisation Act.

The six regulated, priority products are set to include agrichemicals and their containers, plastics(including silage wrap and feed stacks and tyres. 

The designation will also cover electrical and electronic products including lithium and ion batteries, refrigerants and other synthetic greenhouse gases and packaging including containers and single-use packaging.

Ross said the recommended priority products are the most hazardous ones lying around farms and nothing is been done about them or they’ve been buried or burnt or something.

The agrichemicals industry is pretty much set up now and hopes to be operating under the stewardship scheme within three years. Veterinary medicines are likely to take longer because of the type of packaging involved.

“You’re dealing with vaccines and antibiotics and contamination. And nowhere else in the world is there an animal medicine waste recycling scheme so we’re going to be leading the world in this.”

Meantime, the waste collection trend is encouraging.

“It’s just farmers wanting to do something about environmental protection and management and it’s just the programme getting more established,” Ross said.

Another agri waste scheme, Plasback, deals with bale wrap, silage pit covers, small low-density polyethylene, feed bags, shrink wrap and pallet covers. Agrecovery works with Plasback to provide collection points.

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