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Used farm plastic may find new life

Plastic-covered rolls of cut hay, like the ones seen above, can soon be recycled with help from a $60,960 state grant awarded to the Franklin County Solid Waste Management District.  (Recorder file/Geoff Bluh)

Plastic-covered rolls of cut hay, like the ones seen above, can soon be recycled with help from a $60,960 state grant awarded to the Franklin County Solid Waste Management District. (Recorder file/Geoff Bluh)

Those giant plastic “marshmallows” you see on farms around Franklin County will finally be finding someplace to get “eaten.”

No, the hay bales in those giant white wrappers — which some think look more like an army of Michelin Men ­— will still be going to the same cows, presumably. But the plastic itself is headed off to be recycled thanks to the Franklin County Solid Waste Management District.

The district, with an $18,300 state grant and another $1,500 from the Franklin Regional Council of Governments, is planning three collection days next week for agricultural plastic, in Greenfield, Buckland and Whately.

Until now, that kind of plastic bale wrap, greenhouse film, silage covers, drip irrigation tape or maple tubing couldn’t be recycled, says Jan Ameen, waste district administrator. Much of it either goes into trash bins, costing farmers a bundle. Worse, she says, some is probably burned or buried.

So for more than a decade, Ameen has been looking for ways to get the materials recycled.

After winning the state funding in January, with a plan to ship the plastic to a California recycler to turn it into “non-concrete modular pavement,” she’s spent months working with Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture and UMass Extension, trying to find out how much material there would be and in what forms it would come, finally tracking down another recycler, in Auburn, N.Y., who can turn it into “plastic plywood.”

But the recycler insisted on having the material baled to be collected, which Ameen says simply was too difficult to have done. Instead, she got technical assistance funding from the COG and arranged to have the waste district pay for shipping.

“There’s a lot of this out there, and apparently there’s a market for it, but it’s four hours away,” Ameen says.

How much is a lot? Ameen figures that each bale wrap is about five pounds of plastic and that about 22 tons worth are generated in this area each year. If even 10 percent of the plastic maple tubing and greenhouse film used around the county were replaced each year, that would be about 16.5 tons more plastic.

“When you think about how much is out there being landfilled, buried or burned, it seems critical to get a sustainable recycling program in place,” she says.

Unfortunately, now is the season for most farmers, who need to dispose of several bales a week after feeding cattle, to be baling this season’s hay and storing it away, not for having piles of used “marshmallows” ready for disposal. But Ameen says that some farmers, aware of the 22-town district’s recycling plans, have it set aside, ready to recycle. They’ve also been saving up their used tubing — the kind of plastic “spaghetti” that got tangled up around the county in a massive ice storm a few years ago.

It’s usually the kind of plastic that Ameen says “typically nobody wants because it’s dirty.”

Now, she says, she’s not sure how much material to expect from next week’s pilot collection program. But she hopes to gather information about how much there is and incorporate it into another grant proposal to pay for a baler, at a cost of $17,000 to $18,000, for future agricultural plastic collections.

No plastic mulch, pots or trays will be accepted, and maple taps and connectors will be accepted only if still attached to the plastic tubing.

Collections are planned for:

∎  Monday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Greenfield Transfer Station’s leaf composting area. Entrance must be by the back gate on Cumberland Road.

∎ Tuesday from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Buckland Recreation Center

∎ Oct. 11 from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Northampton Livestock Auction in Whately.

Details about how to prepare the material are at the district’s website, or by contacting Ameen at or calling 413-772-2438 .

On the Web:

You can reach Richie Davis at:
or 413-772-0261, Ext. 269

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