|The BigFoot baler, equipped with its own engine-powered hydraulics, compresses waste plastic into 40"- square bales.
An annoying disposal problem on dairies may soon go the way of newspapers and glass bottles. Thanks to the design genius of a plastics salesman, increased values for petroleum-based products and substantial financial support from some agencies and institutes in New York State, recycling of used ag plastics is gaining huge momentum.
Dennis Sutton's BigFoot baler compacts used silo covers and silage bags into 40"-square cubes that are stored on farms or in central locations until the count hits 40—a truckload. Recyclers need to deal in multiple truckloads of material, not trunk loads, says Sutton, of Bradenton, Fla.
"I hate to think how many landfills I've filled in 35 years of selling plastics,” Sutton says, "so for the second half of my career I'd like to help the recycling effort.”
the process by altering the design of an old tobacco baler to accommodate "dirty” ag plastics, mounting it on a utility trailer and powering it with its own gas engine and hydraulics so farmers can use the baler anywhere. "The concept is to scatter balers—one for every four to ten counties,” he says, "then tow them around to farms as needed.”
Lois Levitan, leader of the Recycling Ag Plastics Project at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y., is spearheading the effort to educate farmers and develop markets for the recycled products, such as plastic lumber, fence posts, telephone poles and railroad crossties.
On-farm baler demonstrations have already begun in western New York, the Lake Champlain watershed and northern New York. Extension educators and staffers from soil and water conservation districts pave the way by teaching best management practices for collecting used ag plastics. These include:
- As much as possible, keep the plastics free of mud and manure.
- Shake off dirt and debris and pull weeds out of the plastics.
- Fold, roll or cut dry plastics into easily handled bundles.
- Separate different types of plastics. Keep bale wrap separate from bale twine, ag bags and bunker covers (the latter two can be grouped together), keep feed bags separate and store other materials in groups.
- Store baler-ready bundles under cover to keep them clean, dry and out of sunlight.
"My concern with the project is that there not be an additional burden on the farmer,” says Art Baderman of the Cornell Cooperative Extension Association of Jefferson County, N.Y. Indeed, some dairy producers wonder aloud if they can afford the labor to "fuss” with the plastics for baling.
Still, an open-burning ban in the state is not far off, landfills don't want the material and burying requires an investment of time, too.
"You go a million miles toward the goal just by keeping your used plastics as clean as possible, dry, and cut into pieces manageable by a single person,” explains Steve Mahoney, district manager of the Clinton County (N.Y.) Soil and Water Conservation District.
Major funding for the effort comes from the New York Farm Viability Institute and the state Department of Environmental Conservation.