Cleanfarms: Improving Environmental Stewardship on Canadian Farms

It’s never as simple as farm to table. The business of growing food to feed Canadians and to export to global markets generates waste materials that require special techniques for safe management and diversion from landfills.  Cleanfarms is a not-for-profit industry stewardship organization committed to environmental responsibility through the proper management of agricultural waste. Cleanfarms is greening up your greens.

Through their operation of an ever-increasing number of stewardship programs on behalf of the pesticide, fertilizer, seed and animal health medication sectors, Cleanfarms, under the leadership of General Manager, Barry Friesen, works to help Canadian farmers manage farm waste responsibly. This is achieved through the implementation of project-based solutions that enable environmental sustainability through effective stewardship of waste, agricultural plastics and packaging;  Between 2016 and 2018 three new programs were launched by Cleanfarms: Bulk Container Stewardship & Recovery,  Expanded Seed & Pesticide Bag Recovery, and Manitoba Agricultural Film & Twine Recycling. It turns out there’s a lot of science in collecting string.

Cleanfarms begins with research, pilot projects or a combination of both. The team works closely with partners from concept through program implementation to ensure the programs address the key issues and suit the needs of the industry they serve. Projects start with a thorough analysis of applicable findings of agricultural waste characterization studies completed over various years in several provinces. Programs are designed based on that knowledge and by testing new solutions and analysing results. Working with program partners to plan for and execute and monitor/measure impacts of the programs helps ensure success.

Having been researched and tested as pilots or micro-pilots in order to fine-tune and optimize the results, the three programs showcased here took the next step and were launched at full scale.

About 50% of pesticides used on Canadian farms are delivered in bulk containers larger than 23 litres, with about 50,000  non-refillable bulk containers a year delivered into market in 2013. Cleanfarms established a network of retail partners who collect, and store containers then contact contractors for pickup. The 100% industry-funded program is operates on a return-to-retail model, which makes it very convenient for farmers. Cleanfarms manages the entire process, including communications, collection, processing, shredding the plastics, health safety and environment testing on new products.

In a similar vein, Canadian farms empty millions of plastic and paper seed and pesticide bags each growing season. Out of necessity, many have been taken to landfills with some burnt in fields. Based on the popularity of other programs, Cleanfarms established a network of collection and storage facilities at retail locations along with a logistics system that includes counting/characterizing the collected bags and transporting them for waste diversion through recycling or waste to energy. The program is financed by seed/pesticide brandowners and includes comprehensive communications campaigns to inform farmers about the program and inspire their participation.

In Manitoba farm operations generate about 6,000 tonnes of agricultural wastes annually with increasing prevalence of plastic products, such as grain bags and silage wrap. Cleanfarms initiated pilot programs to collect and recycle agricultural film plastic and twine.

The programs share similar objectives and implementation approaches. The goal being to make it convenient and easy for farmers and other stakeholders to participate fully in safe disposal and recycling programs in order to increase the amount of waste diverted from landfill

Cleanfarms’ research and existing programs show that, not surprisingly, when convenient and cost-effective stewardship programs are available, farmers will overwhelmingly use them and THAT is a row worth hoeing.