Circular economy schemes boost sustainable farming

Two novel recycling schemes are closing the loop by providing farmers with an easy and practical way to recycle their plastic waste.

The Plasback scheme collects plastic, such as silage wrap, irrigation pipes and fertiliser bags, from the agriculture and horticulture sectors and processes it into new products, such as Tuffboard, an innovative plywood replacement used on farms.

Since 2010, when Plasback first became an accredited Product Stewardship Scheme, over 2500 farmers across New Zealand have signed up to have their plastics collected. So far, Plasback has recycled more than 6500 tonnes of plastic – equivalent to 650,000 sacks of potatoes.

Separately, the Government’s Waste Minimisation fund has granted $1.25 million to support the upgrade and recommissioning of EnviroNZ’s plastic extrusion plant in Christchurch. The plant will be able to recycle over 1,000 tonnes of woven polypropylene bulk fertiliser bags into high quality pellets each year. These polypropylene pellets will then be used by New Zealand companies to make locally manufactured products such as irrigation tubing and rope.

The plant was originally acquired as part of EnviroNZ’s purchase of Christchurch-based Mastagard in 2014, but had been mothballed since 2012. To date the collected bags had been baled and stored, waiting to be exported offshore. Now they will be able to be processed onshore once the upgrade and re-commissioning of EnviroNZ’s plastics recycling plant is completed.

Fertiliser manufacturers and distributors Ballance and Ravensdown produce about 1 million single-use bulk fertiliser bags, approximately 3,000 tonnes. EnviroNZ has worked with Ballance and Ravensdown to establish a successful collection system to recover these bags from farms. Farmers are now sending on average 100 tonne of bags per month for recycling.

These types of schemes provide twin benefits to the environment by reducing the harm associated with burning and burying plastic, and reducing the need to extract more raw materials for new products. They promote the sustainable use of resources and encourage producers and suppliers of products to take a whole life-cycle view of their products.