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Taking a closer look: Grain bag environmental handling fees and deposits

The program has transitioned from a government-funded to an industry-funded model


Talking with farmers and hearing from the variety of stakeholders who use and are impacted by Cleanfarms’ programs is a favourite part of my role.

To kick off 2019, I staffed the Cleanfarms booth at the Crop Production Show. This was our first time at this show, and we’ll be back. We had good traffic but what I really noticed was that attendees had the time for in-depth conversations.

When it comes to the work I do, conversations are an essential ingredient.

Grain bags that won’t be headed for the landfill.

A popular topic at our booth was the recent change to the grain bag recycling program. While grain bag recycling has been available across Saskatchewan since 2011, the program has transitioned from a government-funded to an industry-funded model.

This directly impacts farmers who use these bags. As of Nov 1, 2018, these farmers saw a non-refundable Environmental Handling Fee (EHF) of about 25 cents per kilogram added to the price of the bags they purchase. This works out to $37 on a 9 x 250 bag.

Most farmers who visited the booth were somewhat aware of the program and wanted to learn more. We talked a fair bit about the fact that the EHF is non-refundable, which naturally led to the question ‘why?’

Conversations about why the recycling program doesn’t make use of a deposit system typically touch on three interrelated themes – simplicity, cost and size.

Keep it simple

I was quite involved in the program’s consultation and development phase where I consistently heard retailers, collection sites and farmers advising us to keep it simple. Deposit systems, while effective, add complexity (and cost) to any recycling program through increased administration which is needed to account for and reimburse refundable deposits.

Cost

A conversation about deposits almost always includes the popular SARCAN program and the refundable deposit on beverage containers. Consumers tend to forget that in addition to the refundable deposit on their receipt, a non-refundable fee is also charged. Why? Simply put, the revenue generated from the sale of the recycled material (e.g., plastic, electronics or pop bottles) does not fully cover the cost of the recycling program. The consumer/user makes up the rest.

If the grain bag recycling program used a deposit system, a non-refundable fee in addition to the deposit would still be needed to cover these costs. In fact, it would be higher than the existing $0.25/kilogram because it would need to cover the additional administration involved on top of the heavy labour and operational costs involved in grain bag recycling. And this leads me to the last point.

It is a 300 lb. bag

Grain bags, while extremely useful, are a challenge at the end of their useful life. This is due, in part, to their size and bulkiness. Talk with anyone who has handled these bags and they will tell you that the logistics required to move these bags to a recycling market are resource intensive, which means there is a cost.

This last point, the simplest, tends to resonate the most.

At the end of the day, retailers, collection sites and farmers continue to tell me that, even with the complexities involved in launching a new program, responsibly recycling these 300 lb. bags is the right thing to do.

Kim Timmer is Cleanfarms’s  manager of stakeholder relations. You’ll often find her at industry events sharing tools and resources with those on the front lines.
Cleanfarms is best known for its empty container recycling program and unwanted pesticide and old livestock medication collection campaign. The organization is contracted by industry to operate Saskatchewan’s grain bag recycling program.

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