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New report documents agricultural plastic use across Canada


August 3, 2021
By Cleanfarms (edited)
Annual Ag Plastic Generation by Region (tonnes, percentage)

Cleanfarms has released a first-ever national benchmark report that documents the level of agricultural plastic materials generated by sector and by region across the country.

This report marks the end of an 18-month research project to identify the types and amount of plastic packaging and products used in the agricultural sector across Canada,

“This data is available at an important time. There is considerable activity at the global level aimed at changing the ways that plastics are managed,” said Cleanfarms Executive Director Barry Friesen. “Closer to home, we can now measure our progress just as new initiatives are put in place that complement both established and high performing recycling programs and the ongoing commitment in the farming community to do even more.”

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The research was funded in part by Environment and Climate Change Canada. It provides in-depth figures that will help guide the ag sector as it explores how agricultural plastics packaging and products can contribute to Canada’s emerging circular economy. The report, Agricultural Plastic Characterization and Management on Canadian Farms, has been posted to cleanfarms.ca

The research estimates that Canadian farmers use nearly 62,000 tonnes of ag plastic products and packaging annually. More than half of that, about 53%, is generated in the Prairie provinces; Ontario and Quebec combined generate another 37%; BC accounts for about 7%, and the Maritimes produce the remainder at 3%.

Different commodities and farming practices impact the types and amounts of ag plastics in use. Field crop production, which includes grain and oilseeds and growing hay and fodder for livestock account for 59% of the total amount generated annually in the form of grain bags, silage wrap, bale wrap, baler wrap and bunker covers.

In comparison, greenhouse vegetables account for 9%, horticultural flowers and plants account for 2%, and nursery production accounts for another 2%, by tonnage.

Plastic usage in other sectors and by province is detailed in the report.

Ag plastics generated by sector, nation-wide.

A Canadian agricultural industry stewardship organization, Cleanfarms develops and operates programs across Canada specifically for farmers to help them manage plastic materials when they are no longer useful. The organization currently operates a Canada-wide program that recovers empty 23L and smaller pesticide and fertilizer containers. The program has been in operation for 30 years. In 2020, 76% of the empty containers were recovered for recycling.

“Cleanfarms currently collects about 6,000 tonnes of ag plastics annually through its existing programming. This figure is up from about 2,000 tonnes in 2015,” Friesen noted. “With support from Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada’s Canadian Agricultural Strategic Priorities Program program, Cleanfarms is launching six pilot projects that are designed to help recover a greater portion of essential, high volume ag plastics. We anticipate we’ll see the recovery numbers climb year over year,” Friesen said.

Research Study Recommendations

In the report, Cleanfarms noted that a national, multi-phased strategy is needed to enable industry to divert more plastics that can be recirculated in the Canadian economy, including:

  • Increased outreach to inform farmers of the opportunities to use existing programs designed for them
  • Develop best management practices through pilot projects to establish appropriate preparation procedures to ensure the plastics collected are recyclable, and to transition pilot projects to permanent programs
  • Develop technologies that improve the quality of collected materials before they are delivered to end markets
  • Develop and allow processes that incorporate used ag plastics in the manufacture of new products
  • Provide support, as appropriate, to the development of extended producer responsibility policies to ensure a stable funding source to cover recycling programs and costs long term

“The fact that long-standing plastics management programs have been set up and operated voluntarily by the ag industry in Canada is a testament to how far this sector is ahead of the curve,” Friesen said. “Our efforts will continue to focus on expanding recycling in the ag sector to help farmers achieve their sustainability goals.”