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Groups advocate recycling incentives on farm

Posted on October 15, 2014 at 8:00 AM by Iowa Corn

Photo Courtesy Iowa Farmer Today
For farmers interested in recycling more, Joe Hummel, sales manager for City Carton recycling in Cedar Rapids, explains dirty materials are hard to recycle. Quite a few farmers deliver bale wrap to City Carton. Hummel suggests laying it out to let the rain wash it, then bringing it in for recycling.
CEDAR RAPIDS — Time and money are two big factors in the future of recycling ag waste. But, steps to reduce it at the source have already been taken.

Joe Hummel, recovered material sales manager for City Carton Recycling, grew up on a farm.

He said it’s much simpler and cheaper for his dad and other farmers to burn used seed sacks during busy planting time than to bundle and truck them to the nearest recycling drop-off.

Part of his job is finding the environmental and economic incentive for them to do the latter.

“How do you reach those people and how do you make it easy and accessible?” Hummel said.

In the past 25 years, the ag industry’s recycling options have changed.

Pesticide-container recycling programs proliferated while the ag industry was cutting down on the number of containers it used. Many seed companies have switched from sacks to bulk, reusable totes.

But, there’s still an incentive to reduce, reuse and recycle — the waste-management hierarchy, Shelly Codner calls it. Codner is an Iowa Waste Exchange (IWE) area resource specialist serving the I-35 corridor.

“The ag industry, in my opinion, is very proactive in following that hierarchy — for environmental and economic reasons,” she said.

The IWE began in 1990 to provide state industries with waste alternatives. Codner, who works with small family farms up to large commercial operations, starts by searching for ways to reduce waste.

“Ten years or five years ago, we were inundated with seed bags,” she said. “The industry has come up with a process of eliminating that waste by using reusable totes for seed, instead.”

Codner said these companies claim that has reduced 50 percent of seed-bag waste.

Photo Courtesy Iowa Farmer Today
City Carton in Cedar Rapids is working to find more ways to recycle ag waste, like these compacted seed bags.
Changes in the industry also have reduced the volume of pesticide container waste. Warren Goetsch, bureau chief of environmental programs with the Illinois Department of Agriculture, oversees the state’s pesticide container recycling collection program.

“When we first started, everyone was using 2.5-gallon plastic jugs,” Goetsch said. “Over the last decade, we’ve been going from quarts and pints (used) per acre down to ounces per acre, so containers have dropped in size and number.”

Alternatively, larger commercial or private sprayers now use more bulk containers, so the total number of containers has gone down, Goetsch said.

A recycling program is still needed, though, he said. This past month, at 30 sites throughout Illinois, approximately 81,000 pounds or 120,000 containers were collected. That’s about average for the program’s 25-year history. The containers, which must be triple-rinsed before drop off, are ground up and used to make plastic lumber, pallets, truck-bed liners and park benches.

“Interest in being good environmental stewards is on the rise,” Goetsch said.

City Carton, a private company based in Eastern Iowa, accepts clean pesticide containers, along with other major sources of ag waste like seed totes, bale wrap, plastic barrels, hoophouse covers and silage bags, Hummel said.

They work with regional seed companies to recycle used bags, and FFA groups sometimes call about teaming up for collections.

“Mostly it’s people who call us of their own volition and say, ‘Hey, I’ve got all this plastic and I really hate to see it go to a landfill. Can I bring it in?’ ” Hummel said.

For farmers interested in recycling more, he explained dirtier materials are harder to recycle. Quite a few farmers deliver bale wrap to City Carton. Hummel suggests laying it out to let the rain wash it, then bringing it in for recycling.

Shrink wrap can be recycled in plastic-bag drop-offs at grocery stores, and many organic wastes can be composted.

Sue Johnson, Iowa Department of Natural Resources environmental specialist, said there are several other options for farmers looking to reuse or recycle goods.

“If farmers have an item they’re looking for or something they have they think someone can reuse, we have a website called Iowa Greenlist,” Johnson said. It’s like a classified section for used building material, tires, appliances, scrap metal and plastics. Farmers can find it at

Codner, who also farms with her husband in Butler County, performs a similar job for the IWE.

“We help identify material that’s of value,” she said. “Someone might be sitting on material that’s of value and not know it.”

Zoe Martin, Iowa Farmer Today

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