Plans are underway to create a more formalised plastic recycling scheme across the rural sector that mandates the re-use of certain types of plastic.
The new scheme will be based on a consultation document created by AgRecovery that was recently presented to the government.
“We have consulted on how to do it, and they are going to consult on how to make it into a legal process. The focus there is around voluntary membership and making it mandatory,” AgRecovery chief executive Tony Wilson said.
It will initially target the “four big plastics” – silage bale wrap, plastic agrichemical containers, large fertiliser bags and smaller bags.
“The aim of it is that we’re moving away from a voluntary scheme where these producers or manufacturers pick and choose if they want to belong, to where it’s mandated,” he said.
AgRecovery wants to run the scheme and has applied to become as an accredited public steward organisation (PSO) to enable it to do so.
The drive behind this is due in part to central government, but most of it is coming from the farmers themselves, Wilson said.
“They’re having to prove to their end customers or the customers they are sending their product to that they are being sustainable.”
That proof is tied in to the sustainable dairying programmes run by the dairy companies, such as Fonterra’s Tiaki scheme or Synlait’s Lead with Pride.
“It’s great to see the likes of Fonterra realising how important it is and making it more compulsory or incentivised for the farmer to do the right thing.”
For farmers, it will mean more places to drop off their plastic for collection.
A mandated scheme would be funded by a levy that would fund the vehicles used to collect the plastic and manage the collection sites.
That levy will be placed on the plastic manufacturers or the brands for every measure of plastic created and put into the market as a product.
While there could be a small increase in pricing at the farmgate, Wilson said with it being mandated, everyone would paying for it.
“It’s a different way for the waste to get moved and I’d put my hand on my heart and say that it would be costing the farmer less giving us the plastic than taking it to a landfill.”
Everyone has a role to play in plastic recycling, he said.
“If we get this right and we get all of this plastic back. NZ Inc benefits from it because we’re selling products at a higher margin overseas. We all win from that and it’s really important that we get that right.”
One of the guidelines for AgRecovery to follow as a PSO is that everything that is collected must be recycled in a circular economy. This means the plastic must be in a state that it can be re-used. AgRecovery can get hard plastics processed in New Zealand, but soft plastics have to be sent overseas.
“The thing with the product stewardship scheme is that we’re not chasing the dollar, we’re chasing the plastic and we are rewarded by showing that we are recycling more plastic, not that we’re making a profit because we’re a not-for-profit charitable trust.”
As a result, they use only A-grade recyclers to ensure that the plastic is being properly recycled into products such as building insulation or car parts.
It is not just farmers – there is a lot of plastic that is used across supply chains, and Wilson said AgRecovery is interested in exploring ways that it can assist with that aspect of recycling.
“Whether its stuff like shrinkwrap on pallets that move through the supply chain or the re-bagging of bags, we need to make sure all of that plastic is brought back into a scheme so it can be recycled.”
Wilson hopes to match the recycle rates in Europe, which sit at around 85-90%. By comparison, NZ’s rate is around 50%.
“We have a big task ahead of us to get to those levels. We’re really keen to do it, but we need everyone’s help to get there.”
Viewing plastic as a resource rather than as a waste product will greatly help lift those rates.
“It’s a steep change and we really need to think outside the box in terms of innovation and I think farmers are up for that.
“No one wants to bury or burn on the farm anymore. They want to get it back again to be re-used.”
This article first appeared in the September edition of our sister publication, Dairy Farmer.