As the use of agricultural films increases on farms, so does the need for recycling agricultural plastics. PolyAg, an Alberta company, along with its successful partnerships, are leading the way in how closed-loop recycling can be applied. This circularity increases efficiencies and builds economic value right here in the province.
PolyAg is a company equally owned by Dan Zembal, Damian Flegel and Brad Wilson based in the heart of the Alberta grain belt, Bashaw, Alberta. The company has become a hub for the recycling of agricultural plastics – namely grain bags – which pass through a three-stage process to be shredded, double washed and melted into resin pellets. Dan, Damian, and Brad, specifically chose small-town Bashaw to house PolyAg, not just for its robust labour pool and low-cost real estate, but because they realized the potential in this location as grain bags could be easily collected with a low carbon footprint and low transportation costs. Most of their Alberta collection sites are less than three to five hours away, with fifty percent from central Alberta, and fifty percent of the grain bags coming from western Saskatchewan. Of consideration was also the fact that there was an internationally renowned plastics company, Berry Global, capable of using PolyAg’s post-consumer resin (PCR) pellets located less than two hours away in Edmonton, which reduces the environmental and financial variables to recycling the grain bags. This partnership is taking plastic used on Canadian farms to make new plastic products for use on other Canadian farms, an Alberta-made solution to drive our economy forward while protecting our shared environment.
Initiatives spur increased recycling
Proudly, in their third year of production, having survived the turmoil of starting a business during the Covid-19 pandemic, PolyAg can boast responsibility for recycling over five million pounds of used grain bags. They have accomplished this through a push by many partners and levels of government towards zero waste initiatives on the collection side. Cleanfarms is a national agricultural industry stewardship organization that runs the Saskatchewan grain bag program as well as other ag-product-related programs for recycling or safe disposal across the country. In 2019, Cleanfarms was selected as the program operator for the multi-stakeholder Agricultural Plastics Recycling Group’s (APRG) ‘Alberta Ag-Plastic. Recycle it!’ pilot project funded by the Government of Alberta. The program supports a province-wide program to collect and recycle grain bags and twine that otherwise may have been burned, landfilled or left as stored waste on farms. The local approach to collection allows farmers to enhance sustainability practices as well, because the recycling process is easily accessed and locally managed. Since the bags are very large, measuring around 9 to 12 feet in diameter and 250 to 500 feet in length, they can be difficult to manage after use; and they have grown in popularity among agricultural producers over the past ten years.
Closing the loop with partnerships
As the collection of the grain bags and production of the pellets became more consistent, PolyAg founded a relationship with a world-renowned plastic company, Berry Global, and the rest of the story is history in the making for ag plastic circularity in the province. PolyAg has held partnerships with other PCR users, like those responsible for the production of weeping tile, but benefited from the experience of Berry Global. Berry Global’s mentorship, extensive scientific research and background information about plastics production combined with PolyAg’s location and refined process have led to their success. By focusing on grain bag processing, PolyAg and Berry Global were able to employ closed-loop recycling practices that maintain a high-quality grade of agricultural film.
“The process took some tweaking but with Berry Global’s experience, in-house engineering of equipment and quality control testing remaining stable over a number of trials, we have arrived at a place now where very little quality control testing is needed because the product is so consistent,” remarked Dan Zembal of PolyAg. “A goal that isn’t always achievable in plastics recycling with such a variety of resin types and uses.”
This example is great news for the Alberta circular economy because agricultural films at all stages of production don’t have to be shipped and utilized in foreign markets. For the bags to be collected and then re-processed just a few hours apart boosts the local economy through job creation and is environmentally responsible.
Due to PolyAg’s success with grain bag recycling, they are now exploring the processing of other types of agricultural films. This expansion is also expected to include a second plant and redesigned equipment capable of handling different types of polyethylene plastics. PolyAg demonstrates that the circular economy is not only possible in Alberta, but also marks new potential for other industries to manage plastics on home soil in a similar manner.
PolyAg, Cleanfarms, and Berry Global are all members of the Alberta Plastics Recycling Association.
For more information on these programs and other recycling initiatives, please visit the following:
Cleanfarms – https://cleanfarms.ca
AlbertaPlastics Recycling Association – https://albertaplasticsrecycling.com
Agricultural Plastics Recycling Group – www.aprg.ca