CropLife Canada is the trade association representing the crop protection industry in Canada. The organization has taken a novel and highly successful approach to managing its industry’s waste. And this is not ordinary waste. Every year, it adds up to some 7.5 million empty plastic pesticide containers on thousands of farms across Canada.
Add to that the issue of managing old, unwanted and obsolete pesticides that have accumulated over the years on many of these same farms. Left unmanaged, this waste could present an unacceptable risk to the safety of farm families and the communities they live in, and potentially contaminate soil and groundwater.
To manage the potential risks associated with products used by farmers to protect their crops from insect, weed and disease infestations, CropLife Canada developed a voluntary, industry-led program called stewardshipfirst’. It’s a lifecycle approach to reducing risk to the public and the environment, and includes the following initiatives spanning the entire crop protection industry:
* container and obsolete collection;
* audited health, safety and environmental standards (that must be met by all manufacturing and warehouse facilities to prevent spills and fires); and
* promoting safe and responsible product use.
The industry takes its responsibility of safeguarding the public and environment very seriously, with more than two-thirds of CropLife’s annual budget spent on stewardshipfirst’.
The largest and most costly stewardship initiative is managing the industry’s empty containers. Most of the $1.31-billion worth of pesticides sold in Canada in 2003 were sold in jug-like plastic containers. These containers are typically 10 litres in size and made of white, high-density polyethylene (HDPE) plastic. After use, jugs are triple- or pressure-rinsed to minimize any chemical residue. Many farmers are also using refillable totes that can be reused several times compared to single-trip containers.
Despite gains in waste management, the crop protection industry produces 7.5 million empty plastic containers every year that need to be safely managed. That’s where recycling kicks in.
In 1989, CropLife launched its empty pesticide container recycling program. As a strictly industry-run program, the organization wasn’t looking for government regulation to force farmers to recycle empty containers. But the organization was still looking for measurable success, which meant it must be practical. A multi-stakeholder voluntary program was the result, engaging the entire supply chain. All participants subscribed to a shared vision: farms and roadside ditches free of the litter of empty pesticide containers. Everyone had an important role to play in creating the program in place today.
Farmers return their rinsed containers to the dealer they purchased from, or to a local municipal collection site. CropLife contractors pick up the containers, shred them and transport the shredded material to recyclers. A 54-cent container levy — paid by the pesticide manufacturer (member companies of CropLife) — covers the cost of the program. This is in addition to the costs borne by farmers, retailers, and municipalities to do their part in the process.
Remarkable recovery and recycle rate
The structure and convenience of this program resonates with farmers. CropLife Canada made arrangements for 1,300 collection sites across Canada. Farmers learned about the program with the high profile “Rinse, Return, Recycle” promotion campaign, running in agricultural media outlets across the country.
And the efforts have paid off. Since the program began 16 years ago, more than 60 million empty pesticide containers have been collected. That makes Canada the world leader in this area, with a 70 per cent recovery rate of the plastic containers sold into the marketplace. After shredding, the recovered containers are recycled into farm fence posts and highway guardrails, among other uses.
The obsolete pesticide pick-up program has enjoyed similar success. In a nation-wide sweep that finished in 2004, more than 800,000 kg of old products were disposed of safely. Farmers brought products to dealer warehouses certified for the safe storage and handling of pesticides. CropLife contractors collected the products with specialized equipment and transported it to government approved high-temperature incineration sites for safe destruction. Once again, this is a multi-stakeholder, voluntary, industry-led initiative. Costs were covered from three sources: in-kind contribution by farmers and dealers, provincial and federal government, and CropLife paying 50 per cent of all direct costs based on a manufacturer member levy on all pesticide packages sold into the marketplace. Another sweep of the country is being planned to start in the fall of 2005.
Ag recycling excellence
In 2003, CropLife Canada’s stewardshipfirst’ programs were recognized for global leadership in environmental sustainability and stewardship. The warehousing standards program (Agri-Chemical Warehousing Standards Association) received one of the 12 DuPont Sustainable Excellence Growth Awards; out of 400 nominations from across the globe. The obsolete pesticide collection program in Alberta — Operation CleanFarm — was awarded the Premier of Alberta’s Award of Excellence, Bronze Recipient, for contributing to a healthier environment.
Lorne Hepworth is president of CropLife Canada in Toronto, Ontario.