Vice President's Blog - 7 September 2018

There is a burning issue with farm plastics.  Vice President Martin Kennedy asks can you help?

Although for the past number of years we have been allowed to incinerate farm plastics on farm under an exemption from the Waste Management Licensing regulations, the time is fast approaching where this practice will no longer be permitted.

From the 1 January 2019, we will no longer be allowed to dispose of farm plastics in this manner, and therefore we will be the last in the UK and pretty much the last right across Europe to comply with this regulation.

So, what's all the fuss about?

The reality is that this is a very serious problem to many right across the farming and crofting sectors. Whether it's bale wrap, silage sheets, chemical drums, fertiliser bags, vegetable covers or any other farm use plastic, we need to know what the options are for recycling. Firstly, whether it can be recycled and, secondly, if so where can it be either collected or dropped off.

There are two main concerns for our producers - cost and collection infrastructure.

Cost affects every business and we need to keep them as low as possible.  There are already existing areas where collection of plastics is free, but this depends on location of both producers and collectors.

Infrastructure for collection is something that is lacking, particularly when we look at our more outlying areas where transport is already at a premium.

On 31 August, together with Jonnie Hall, our Head of Policy and Member Services, I met with SEPA officials and directors and staff of RPC BPI Recycling in Dumfries. The object of this was to not only have a look round the plant to see how it operates but also to highlight the fact that the 1 January 2019 is getting closer.

We need to be in a position by the deadline whereby a collection infrastructure is in place, and everyone is in a position that they know what their options are. Obviously, until then, exemption licences are still in place and incineration can be carried out.  However, this is a very short window to implement a countrywide collection system which has no or little cost to our farmers and crofters.

We will be working very closely with SEPA and Zero Waste Scotland, along with many others involved in the recycling process, to ensure there is something robust in place by the end of the year.

As we looked round the recycling plant, one thing became very clear. Once processed, products from farm plastics have a high value so this should drive either a no cost collection system or at least provide for a very minimal cost to be in place.

It took hardly any time at all for the raw used farm plastic to go through the process. Approximately half an hour after the raw material went in at one end, the product was a high value pellet that goes on to make bin liners. These higher-grade pellets accounted for approximately three quarters of recycled material.

The remainder was made into fencing materials.  It took just over an hour for farm-state plastic to be processed into to high value strainers, rails or posts.

The whole process had the ability to turn something of little value into something that was very high value and at the same time help to address this plastic waste issue.

What we need to do is make sure we have a clear picture of current infrastructure and costs so that we can identify the options available and the places where there are gaps to be filled to ensure everyone has recycling options.

To that end, we would like to ask for your help. While we will also be speaking with the recycling companies, we would like members that already recycle plastic to let us know how they do it, so we can collate the information and share it amongst the membership.

Please let us know where you are, which company you deal with and how collection is organised (is it from the farm or a collection point) and, if appropriate, how much it costs. Please send an email to Emma Bradbury in our policy team:   

Author: Martin Kennedy

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About The Author

Martin Kennedy

Martin Vice President of NFU Scotland and is a tenant farmer in Highland Perthshire and farms with his wife Jane and three daughters, Jillian, Katrina and Yvonne. They have 600 ewes and 60 cows on the farm rising from 800ft to over 2,500ft. Martin served two years as Highland Perthshire branch chairman, before representing East Central region on the LFA committee in 2009. Martin then went on to be vice chairman then chaired the committee for three years. He has served as Vice President of NFUS for two years and is currently sitting on his third.

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