Douglas County farmers learned about a new option for recycling agricultural plastic during a meeting at Aroma's Bistro and Coffee Shop in Maple on Friday, May 22. Over caramel rolls and coffee, they discussed a plastic pickup program offered by Revolution Plastics.
The recycling company currently serves the southern two-thirds of the state. Price Murphy, director of operations, said that since launching its program in Wisconsin in 2016, Revolution Plastics has diverted more than 50 million pounds of material from Midwest landfills. It's headquartered in Madison with regional operations in Appleton and Winona, Minnesota.
The company recycles a number of films: silage bags that cover hay bales, grain bags, boat wrap, drip tape, greenhouse film and bunker covers.
According to Jason Fischbach, agricultural agent for Ashland and Bayfield counties, between 50,000 and 75,000 pounds of silage plastic is purchased every year by farmers in Ashland, Bayfield and Douglas counties.
Douglas County farmers said they currently have three options for the plastic: Put it in a landfill, bury it on their own land or burn it. Traditional recycling companies won't take it.
Jennifer Barton, recycling coordinator for Douglas County and environmental specialist with the Northwest Regional Planning Commission, was surprised to hear some farmers burn the plastic.
"It's so bad," she said. "It's the worst thing you can do with it."
Murphy said some of Wisconsin's southern counties and farms have dedicated Revolution Plastics dumpsters. That's not a viable option for Douglas, Ashland and Bayfield counties because of the low volume of agricultural plastic involved.
The company's Pine County, Minnesota, operation was the best example of what would work for the tri-county region, Murphy said. Farmers bring their bagged and rolled plastic to a single site, the transfer station in Hinckley, for seasonal pickup dates in the spring and fall. Revolution collected a total of 86,400 pounds of agricultural plastic from Prine County in 2018, according to county land and resource manager Caleb Anderson.
A seasonal pickup in the spring, and possibly one in fall, at a regional recycling site were discussed by Fishbach and Douglas County Agricultural Educator Jane Anklam. No site was chosen, but Ashland County farmers use more plastics than those in the other two counties.
"The next step is to find out if there are enough people," Anklam said.
Revolution Plastics trucks won't make multiple stops on a run, Murphy said. The business collects plastic from a single site and requires a full load for a pickup call. The plastic cannot be loose. Large pieces can be rolled up and wrapped. Smaller pieces must be packed in bags provided by the company or contained in another way. The plastic needs to be clean-empty and shaken out with no grommets or paint. No plastic twine or fabric allowed.
Murphy said they turn away plastics all the time that don't meet the requirements.
"We didn't make the plastic or sell it," he said. "We're just trying to help."
Instead of resting in the ground or going up in smoke, the plastics collected are turned into garbage bags and other plastic products in a closed-loop process.
Revolution Plastics does not charge for plastic collection. The business sells recapture bags, five for $25. Each 10-by-8-foot bag can hold 200-500 pounds of plastic. It takes 80-100 full bags to fill a truck, Murphy said.
The county ag educators said they plan to purchase a pallet of recapture bags and have them on hand for interested farmers. Anklam has also reached out to the Barkers Island Marina to see if Revolution Plastics might be a good fit for recycling boat wrap used at the facility.
Farmers who attended the meeting came from Maple, Parkland, the town of Superior and Cloverland. Some had beef herds, others dairy. One couple grows produce in hoop houses. Many were interested in the process and started brainstorming ideas for storing and packaging their plastic waste prior to pickup.
Some decided not to wait. Dairy farmer Jon TePoel of Maple purchased a roll of bags after the meeting ended. He handed one to Dustin Soyring, whose family farm in Maple has 200 beef cows calving this year.
"We need to sell it to more farmers," Sue Hendrickson of Parkland said of the program.
It would require a change of thinking and management, Anklam said, but burning the plastic or sending it to the landfill is not the answer.
Visit revolutionplastics.com to learn more about Revolution Plastics.