A combination of county government, private business, and non-profit organizations are combining to hold two pilot agricultural plastics collections for Otsego County farmers this spring.  Collections will take place on Thursday, March 19 and Saturday, April 18 at the Southern Transfer Station in Oneonta.  Participation is free, though pre-registration is required.

Sponsors of the trial collection program are the Otsego County Department of Solid Waste and Recycling, Otsego County Conservation Association, Otsego County Soil & Water Conservation District, Casella Resource Solutions, and New York State Recycling Agricultural Plastics Project, a program of Cornell University. OCCA and SWCD have worked with RAPP for the last two years to help recycle more than 180,000 pounds of agricultural plastics.

Farmers wishing to drop off their plastics need to call OCCA to pre-register.  Jeff O’Handley, OCCA’s program director and local outreach coordinator for RAPP, said pre-registration is necessary to help organize the events and to give special instructions to farmers.

“Once the plastic comes off the bale or bunker, it needs to be kept relatively clean and dry,” O’Handley said, stressing that “clean” is a relative term.  “Stains and smears from feed and soil are fine; caked-on mud, gravel and grit are not.  It takes a couple extra steps to prepare the plastic for recycling.  We’ll cover that during the registration process.”

Plastics used on farms—bale wrap, silage bags, and bunker silo cover, to name a few—have long been ignored by traditional recycling markets because they are dirty and difficult to handle.  Over the last several years, however, markets have developed that accept these items, using them as the raw material to create a variety of products including plastic lumber, plywood and sidewalk pavers.

“Many farmers have expressed a desire to recycle their plastic, but the options have been very limited,” O’Handley said.  “We hope these trial collections will allow us to reach more people countywide.”

Plastic brought to the transfer station will be loaded into a mobile baler operated by SWCD where it will be compacted into a cube roughly 40” on a side and weighing around 1,000 pounds.  Bales will be loaded into a tractor trailer provided by Casella Resource Solutions and shipped to the recycler.

Lonnie O’Bryan, general manager for Casella, said the company is happy to be a partner in the collections.  “Ag plastic takes up a lot of room in our containers and trucks,” she said.  “The sheets of plastic can get tangled in our equipment and cause breakdowns.  And customers can save money by recycling.”

Both collections will take place at the Southern Transfer Station on Silas Lane in Oneonta.  Karen Sullivan, director of the Solid Waste Department, acknowledged that it’s a long distance for some to travel, but said she hopes to see participation from across the county.  “Southern was the best site because it gives us room to work and access to infrastructure and equipment,” Sullivan said.  “If this is a success and there is sufficient demand, we could look into similar collection days at other locations in the county.”

OCCA and SWCD have been the local RAPP partners since 2012.  RAPP was established by Cornell University in 2009 to develop sustainable means for New York State farmers to recycle their used agricultural plastics.  Statewide, RAPP has collected more than 2 million pounds of plastic. In 2014, Otsego County recycled just over 127,000 pounds.

Materials being accepted on March 19 and April 18 include bale wrap, bunker silo cover, silage bags, greenhouse plastic and wood pellet bags.  Not included are net wrap and twine, nursery pots or trays, and salt, mulch, or potting soil bags.  For more information or to register, call O’Handley at OCCA at (607) 282-4087.