Each week, thousands of kiwi homes wheel or carry their rubbish to the kerbside for collection. For rural communities, managing refuse is not such an easy task. Generations of kiwi farmers have had to find their own ways of clearing non-natural waste.

A 2013 study by Environment Canterbury claimed that farms were producing nearly 10 tonnes of waste a year. Empty containers and drums, silage wrap, fertiliser bags and motor oil are just some of the items left over from the business of farming. Finding an efficient and sustainable solution can be confusing and time-consuming for farmers and growers, especially with each waste stream having its own processes for recycling or safe disposal. To add to the challenge, the options aren’t always obvious, conveniently located or available to use at all times – and can be costly.

Rural recycling programme, Agrecovery, is stepping in to help solve these challenges. The programme, which recycles agrichemical containers and drums and sustainably disposes of unwanted agrichemicals, has been trialling a project that allows farmers and growers to drop off a variety of waste at one location. This one-stop-shop solution aims to discourage the harmful disposal practices of burning, burying or stockpiling waste.

Last year Agrecovery initiated two highly successful pilot projects in Matamata and Geraldine, collecting more than 19 tonnes of waste in just two days. The Ministry for the Environment is boosting the project by funding more nationwide events. The programme is co-ordinating six events to be held in late August and September so that farmers and growers can clear a variety of waste all at the same time. These events will be in Westport, Southland, Rolleston, Gisborne as well as Matamata and Geraldine.

Solving NZ’s rural waste issues

Agrecovery works with partners to find sustainable options for recycling the collected waste. The ideal solution is repurposing it locally as it does with agrichemical containers. This rigid plastic can be recycled into useful products like underground cable covers and building materials, but more needs to be done to ensure that we have the means to process waste – particularly soft plastics.

In 2017, the importation of scrap plastics into China was banned as a result of the China National Sword Policy. Other markets for scrap plastics exist, such as Malaysia and Thailand, but they have environmental costs – both in transportation and in the lack of certainty of how the waste is disposed of.

The rural recycling programme wants to make sure that ethical and high value-add facilities process rural waste. Good quality recycled plastic is in high demand and can be made into new useful products. Silage wrap can be recycled into tuffboard – a plywood substitute. To save on carbon emissions, processing it in New Zealand is the best option and the programme is seeking to develop more local recycling facilities.

Agrecovery is also focussing on finding solutions for products that are difficult to clean and recycle, such as fertiliser bags and silage wrap. Plans are already in motion to address these issues – which are wider than just for farming.

For this to work, engagement from a wide range of stakeholders is essential. This includes our rural communities and their continued efforts to participate in recycling solutions.  Finding solutions for waste is one facet, the other is making sure people join the journey to minimise waste.