Serving as a model for a state program, the New Jersey Department of Agriculture is celebrating 15 successful years of nursery and greenhouse plastic recycling. Karen Kritz, recycling program manager, explains how the program has evolved and gives growers tips to start recycling on their own.
In 1996 New Jersey’s Secretary of Agriculture, Arthur Brown, attended the American Society for Plasticulture meeting and met with representatives from AT Plastics, a manufacturer of nursery and greenhouse film to discuss recycling agricultural plastics. After the meeting, the New Jersey Department of Agriculture (NJDA) accepted the role in 1997 as facilitator in the development and implementation of a statewide film-recycling program in an effort to recover and recycle the estimated 1 million pounds used each year by Garden State growers.
NJDA started out with six collection sites where most of the sites only collected nominal tonnage and were not cost effective. In 2003, NJDA decided to downsize to two collection sites and focus where a majority of the film was being generated. From 1997 through 2004, the recycling program was seasonal (February through April) and collected between 350,000 and 500,000 pounds per season. Each year, participation increased up to 5 percent. At the request of the growers, in 2005 NJDA expanded the program to year-round and collected almost 750,000 pounds of film–an increase of 47 percent from the previous years.
Ed Overdevest of Overdevest Nurseries has been recycling for 20 years. He started to work outside of NJDA because he has a high volume of plastics to recycle. Although he is working with a different company, Overdevest reports to Kritz every year to record the amount of plastics that have been recycled.
Two collection sites are quasi-government offices that are not in business to make large profits. In order to ensure the program remained viable over the years, NJDA charged a tipping fee of $20 to $25 per ton. When NJDA first developed the program in 1997, it cost $50 per ton to bale the film, and the market rate for used film was almost $100 per ton.
However, at the end of the year the market for used plastic decreased and the price offered for used film plummeted to as low as $20 per ton. Because there was a small tipping fee assessed to the participants in the
“The first thing recommended to people who wish to recycle nursery and greenhouse film is to determine the cost of collecting and baling the film, then establish the market rate for used film and evaluate the landfill tipping fees,” Kritz says. “Keep in mind the market for used film fluctuates just like the price of oil, so you will have good years where you will get good money for the baled film and bad years where you may just break even.”
Greenhouse and nursery film is the most desired material for purchasing, and it must have minimal contaminants to be recycled. Film must be free of lathing, staples, wood, tape, twine and saran, and if sold to a vendor it must be baled. If the film is not thoroughly cleaned, it will not be accepted.
Through trial and error, NJDA has developed guidelines for the bundling and storage of used film. The guidelines are helpful to growers so the film remains as clean as possible. (An example is how to bundle.) Loads containing other agricultural plastics, such as bags, mulch film, shrink film, stretch film, drip irrigation or ground cover film, need to be separated for a different recycling program, or they will be rejected at the collection sites. Then, they would be sent to the landfill, which would result in fees.
NJDA is in partnership with Cumberland County Improvement Authority, offering free recycling of empty plastic pesticide containers on a monthly collection date. The collection program will be held at the Cumberland County Solid Waste Complex in Deer-field Township. The program is free and will save growers a landfill tipping fee of $60 per ton.
The Cumberland County Solid Waste Complex also accepts drip irrigation tape, charging farmers a fee of $30 per ton–nearly 50 percent savings in landfill tipping fees. Before delivery of the agricultural plastics, all growers must call the Cumberland County Improvement Authority to establish an account with the authority. Growers using a licensed solid waste hauler must inform the authority prior to delivery in an effort to maintain proper billing and documentation.
This year, NJDA is working with Cumberland County Improvement Authority, Lowe’s and Home Depot to develop and put into action a nursery pot, cell pack and tray collection program for small quantity generator growers and landscapers. Pots are only accepted empty with no plants. Large generators of these materials can prepare the materials and sell them to plastic recyclers.