St. Lawrence County Agricultural Plastics Recycling Project

Project Overview

Project Type: Partnership
Funds awarded in 2009: $9,850.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2010
Region: Northeast
State: New York
Project Leader:
Keith Zimmerman
St. Lawrence County
Matilda Larson
St. Lawrence County

Annual Reports


  • Agronomic: corn, grass (misc. perennial), hay


  • Animal Production: feed/forage
  • Education and Training: demonstration, extension, participatory research, technical assistance
  • Sustainable Communities: sustainability measures

    Proposal abstract:

    Current Issue

    Within the past decade, agricultural plastics (ag plastics) have become an integral component of farm operations. While ag plastics are useful for growing, storing and packaging crops and material, they are typically disposed after fulfilling a single, useful purpose. Due to the volume of ag plastic waste that is generated by current farming practices, a challenge farmers face is finding appropriate, cost-effective, and environmentally sound methods for disposing it.

    Farmers in northern New York currently utilize three methods to dispose of ag plastics: open burning, on-site disposal, and off-site disposal. Open burning is not a prohibited practice in New York. The release of dioxins when burning ag plastics adversely affects air quality, human health, and the quality of agricultural products. Until open burning is regulated by the State, it is one of the least costly methods for disposing garbage and other materials such as ag plastics.

    On-site disposal methods, meanwhile, result in unsightly rural landscapes, dampen enthusiasm for agri-tourism, and provoke a negative impression of farming in the area. More importantly, the decomposition of plastics and the leeching of chemical compounds from on-site disposal methods can contaminate soil and water resources. Dumping on private property also increases the difficulty of selling land as most lenders require environmental reviews before financing is approved. While the third option, off-site disposal, eliminates the presence of used ag plastics on farms, it involves paying a tipping fee, raises farm expenses, and does not solve a growing environmental problem.

    While recycling is ideal, it is presently the least-used option for disposing agricultural plastics. Recycling requires additional time, energy and space from farmers to prepare and store the material until it is collected. Farmers who produce a significant volume of ag plastics waste may perceive its preparation for recycling to be too time-consuming and messy, and take up too much space. Because of these perceived challenges, farmers presently bear the additional expense of paying tipping fees to a waste hauler to dispose the material at a landfill, or they burn or bury the material on the farm.

    Changing farmer perceptions about preparing ag plastics for recycling is an important problem to address because none of the other disposal options promote sustainable farming practices, and they can lead to detrimental environmental and public health consequences. Farming is one of St. Lawrence County’s primary industries. In 2003, the New York Agricultural Statistics Service ranked St. Lawrence County first for acreage used for farming (402,800 acres), and third in the state for total number of farms (1,440). If recycling agricultural plastics became the preferred and primary disposal method among St. Lawrence County farmers, it would promote a sustainable agricultural practice that is environmentally sound, benefits the community, and helps reduce farm costs. The challenge is to convince farmers that preparing ag plastics for recycling is worth their while.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    To promote the recycling of agricultural plastics as the preferred disposal method among farmers, St. Lawrence County will conduct a demonstration project that aims to change farmer perceptions about preparing ag plastics for recycling. St. Lawrence County aims to collect 40,000 pounds of agricultural plastics from 11 participating farmers who will utilize best management practices to prepare the material for recycling.

    Through an educational outreach and collection project, this project intends to demonstrate to farmers that preparing ag plastics for recycling may not be as difficult as initially perceived. By incorporating best management practices into their daily routine, farmers can realize a reduction in operating expenses, minimize pollution, and contribute to a more sustainable environment that benefits the entire community.

    Goal: Collect 40,000 pounds of agricultural plastics that is prepared for recycling by 11 participating farmers.

    September - October 2009: Distribute press releases and contact 87 farmers on waiting list to attend kick-off meeting and discuss project.

    October 2009: Conduct kick-off meeting to discuss project and anticipated outcomes with participating farmers.

    November 2009 - September 2010:
    1) Conduct field visits to participating farms and demonstrate best management practices.
    2) Conduct initial survey data from participating farmers to obtain baseline data.
    3) Calculate anticipated volume of plastics prepared for recycling.

    January 2010 - September 2010:
    1) Develop, promote and implement collection and baling schedule.
    2) Calculate ag plastic volume at each collection, and transport baled plastics to County transfer stations.
    3) Conduct four demonstrations at public events to promote project.

    October 2010: Collect final survey data from participating farmers to evaluate changes in perceptions about preparing ag plastics for recycling.

    November 2010: Publish news articles about project findings and accomplishments.

    December 2010: Project close out.

    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.