Agricultural waste plastic finds use as pavement
GREENFIELD — Those giant white plastic bales of hay may come in handy for farmers, but like the plastic film used for greenhouses, row covers and plant pots, it can’t be recycled — at least not until now.
A new $18,300 state grant awarded to the Franklin County Solid Waste District will roll those ‘Michelin Man’ bales, along with the other farm plastics, into reuse as ‘non-concrete modular pavement’ in a pilot project paid for by the renewable energy credits generated by trash incinerators.
“It’s really exciting, and something I’ve wanted to do for probably over a decade,” said waste district Administrator Jan Ameen, who also helped its 22 member towns win $9,250 in grant funding under the Sustainable Materials Recovery Program.
Last year, the district won a $2,000 grant to buy 29 wheeled carts for recycling bottles and cans at schools around thee region. Two years ago, it was awarded $10,000 to set up 20 recycling and composting stations at the Franklin County Fairgrounds.
This year, with the grant being awarded, it found a California-based company, Terrecon, that uses greenhouse film, plant pots and row covers to make into plastic sidewalk blocks.
The company, which pays for the material to be transported to its Midwest processing facility, can recycle a wide variety of plastic that’s not allowed as recyclable in regular town recycling programs, Ameen said, “That’s stuff that typically nobody wants because it’s dirty.”
She said even wood pellet bags may be acceptable for this program, which plans to use 4-by 4-by-4-foot plastic bags and two large storage trailers to keep the recycled material.
Greenfield farmer Kyle Bostrom, who works at the University of Massachusetts Farm in South Deerfield, said, “This is a pretty big deal. Until now, there wasn’t any means of recycling this stuff.
Bostrom said he uses the white plastic-covered bales at the rate of seven or eight per week to feed his cows.
“By the end of the winter there’s a mountain of these, a good size dump-truck load” to haul away and pay for as solid waste.
“It’s a huge benefit,” Bostrom said. He added that greenhouse plastic, which needs to be replaced every few years, easily creates a truck load to be brought to the dump, where it has to be paid for.
Under the solid waste district’s pilot program, which Ameen hopes to continue after the coming year, farmers would be able to bring their plastic to a centralized collecting location. Bostrom said the UMass farm is being looked at.
“We’re really hoping to roll this out and get communities and farmers involved in collecting this material,” she said. “It’s just a pilot, and it may not last or we may find it’s not workable or sustainable, or that it’s too labor intensive. But I’m really hoping we can say, ‘Hey, we’ve worked it all out’ Let’s keep doing this.’”
Eighteen of the smaller towns will receive $500 grants, while Deerfield, Montague and Orange each were awarded $750 for “targeted small scale initiatives” such as buying recycling bins, recycled copy paper, envelopes and other materials.
The other big winner in the grant program was Conway, which will receive $7,500 toward a roll-off compactor for mixed paper recycling, similar to the ones awarded last year to Deerfield and Northfield for paper and cardboard.
The compactors allow the town to increase the container’s capacity to about 8 tons of paper, Ameen said, cutting hauling costs in as much as a third.
“It’s a great way for the towns to get something out of this big pot of money,” said Ameen, who applies for the towns and then helps coordinate purchases.
Greenfield, which received $1,250 in each of the past two years of the program, was not listed by the state to receive funding this year.
The funds come from renewable energy credits paid by incinerator operators like Covanta, whose power-generating incinerator is still used by Greenfield, Montague, Colrain and Heath. As part of the Green Communities Act, Ameen said, “The state decided that trash was a renewable resource, so trash incinerator operators pay renewable energy credits” into a revolving fund for these grants to encourage recycling.