Going greener on the farm

Minnesota has a new recycling pilot project that allows farmers to cut down on agricultural plastic waste. The pilot project gives dairy farmers and other farmers in Stearns County and neighboring counties the opportunity to recycle their agricul...

Minnesota has a new recycling pilot project that allows farmers to cut down on agricultural plastic waste. The pilot project gives dairy farmers and other farmers in Stearns County and neighboring counties the opportunity to recycle their agricultural plastics, rather than discarding or burning them.

The Minnesota Department of Agriculture and the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency are providing supportand funds for the project, which is under way now and runs through August.

One company that has received an MDA grant is AGSI Recycling of Savage, Minn.

"We'll be recycling products that no one else can, products that would otherwise go to the dump," says Karl Bohn, owner of AGSI Recycling.

Project focus


"The project's main focus is on silage bags," says Wayne Gjerde, recycling market development coordinator for MPCA.

The pilot project allows dairy farmers to recycle and reuse the silage bags instead of burning, which is illegal in Minnesota, or throwing them away.

"Fuel is expensive when it comes to building grain bins, and using silage bags for storage is cheaper and more effective when recycled," Gjerde says.

Bueckers City Sanitation in Sauk Centre, Minn., will collect, crush and bale the plastic waste before transporting it by semi-trucks to the AGSI recycling center in Savage for cleaning and processing.

The project is mainly for the state of Minnesota, but AGSI recycling and the sanitation center in Sauk Centre will take agricultural plastics from any farmer willing to transport the waste to the locations.

"For collection of plastic wastes, a central pickup site needs to be established where plastic can be collected and baled. We can only justify sending a truck out to retrieve the material if there is a substantial amount and if it comes to us in compacted form," says Meaghan Phelan, AGSI policy and communications manager. "With gas at the high prices that it is now, we have to make sure we are not transporting air from a site to our facility and trucks need to be completely full."

Farmers will be able to recycle plastic waste such as silage and hay bags, bunker silo covers, bale wrap, field film and plastic tanks and barrels. To participate in the project, farmers must contact local haulers or transport the plastic waste themselves to Sauk Centre. There currently is no fee to drop off materials at the centers.

"The MDA is trying to be proactive in relating to agricultural plastic," says David Weinand, grants administrator for the MDA."


Minnesota's burning ban was put in place to help protect and maintain the state. Today, hundreds of thousands of pounds of silage bags and other agricultural plastics are burned each year. Recyclers are either unable to process the large scale of waste or farmers are burning the plastics instead of paying tipping and tax fees to send the waste to landfills. This burning causes a problem because of legal issues and health risks.

"Burning plastic releases potentially cancer-causing and toxic chemicals into the air where they can be deposited into soil, surface water and plants; contaminating soil and groundwater and entering into the human food chain through crops and livestock," Phelan says. "Chemicals released by burning can accumulate in the fats of animals and then in humans, as we consume meat, fish and dairy products. Because agricultural burning often occurs near food sources, it is particularly important to reduce this health hazard to our food."

When the plastic is taken to landfills, it presents another problem. The plastics take up substantial space and take 200 to 400 years to degrade. Landfill tipping fees and taxes are high, as much as $824 per semi load, depending on the county in Minnesota.

Industry pioneer

AGSI Recycling is a Minnesota-based recycling firm that began in 2005 and is one of the only recycling firms in the U.S. with machinery equipped to wash agricultural plastics typically too dirty or contaminated to recycle. It is the first of its kind in the Midwest and one of only a few recycling centers of its kind outside of Oregon, Texas and Florida.

AGSI currently recycles agricultural plastics including bale wrap, 55-gallon jugs, mini bulks, silage bags, bale twine and field film.

"We are equipped with a wash line that takes care of extreme dirt problems on a very large capacity. We are able to take a material that has historically been unrecyclable and recycle it," Phelan says, "Most recyclers are not willing or able to recycle ag plastics, at least ag bags and field films, due to the high percentage of mud and dirt."

At AGSI, plastics are separated, washed and shredded into regrind pellets before the regrind is sold to manufactures. Products manufactured from the regrind include patio furniture and plastic timber used in decking, boat docks, railroad ties and telephone poles.


Most of AGSI's plastic is transported in from Wisconsin or Minnesota, although it has received some loads from South Carolina and possibly will receive loads from other states.

"We have several programs with various counties in Wisconsin as well," Phelan says. "We are in talks with a few other states about beginning pilots elsewhere in the U.S."

Phelan says, "We only recycle plastic from the U.S. and we only sell regrind to manufactures in the U.S.."

AGSI Recycling expects to process around 100 million pounds of high- and low-density polyethylene by the end of this year. An average of 150 million to 200 million pounds is expected to flow through the facility next year. AGSI Recycling along with Minnesota's pilot project intends to nudge the state toward the goal of reaching a 50 percent recycling rate by the year 2011. Minnesota currently recycles 2.5 million tons of trash; right around 41 percent.

Information: Bueckers City Sanitation at (320) 352-5134 or .

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