Saturday, August 12, 2017

Recycle to Reuse

If you don't spend much time in the countryside, you probably have no idea what working farms look like. (One of my back-burner ideas is to travel the country photographing what farms really look like. Maybe someone else has already done this.) For instance, silo storage is pretty much a thing of the past. Instead, farmers wrap their hay and silage in huge plastic bags on the ground, sometimes in long mounds, sometimes in giant rolled bales.

They do this for good reasons, which I did not know until I read this story in the Star Tribune. The plastic is safer and costs less, but it also keeps the silage fresher, with more nutrients.

It ain't cheap, even so. And it even costs money to throw it away. "With 100 cows, [one farmer] said he was spending $1,700 a year to have 3,000 to 4,000 pounds of plastic trucked to a landfill..." That's 30 to 40 pounds of plastic per cow; the amount per cow is generally about 15 to 20 pounds a year, according to another farmer.

The main focus of the Star Tribune story is an Arkansas company called Revolution Plastics, which is now collecting plastic from farmers who use at least 2,000 pounds a year. They distribute dumpsters and pick up the contents over the months and years for free. They've got about 1,100 dumpsters in Minnesota and 3,300 in Wisconsin, with another 3,000 farmers waiting for delivery.

The company then bales the plastic and ships it to a Minnesota collection hub, from which it's sent to Arkansas to be washed, shredded, heated, and finally turned into plastic pellets that have a range of product uses. The energy footprint of those pellets is less than that of "virgin" (oh, that word) plastics. One product made from the pellets is trash bags that are used in Winona County parks and the Three Rivers Park system in Hennepin County.

According to the Recycling Association of Minnesota, other companies are looking for ways to recycle the plastic discarded by the marina industry, which uses huge amounts wrapping boats for the winter.

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