Agricultural Plastic Recycling Pioneer: Eugene Wright
Retired sheep farmer Eugene Wright from Homer, NY, tells how he started using plastic bale wrap in 1990 and saved the waste plastic from then until he retired in 2007, hoping that a recycling option would emerge. He did this on his own initiative, without encouragement from recycling markets (there were none) and without Best Management Guidelines for how to prepare plastic to be recycled. Such guidelines were not figured out until later. By the time the Recycling Agricultural Plastics Program gained steam and found a processor who was willing to recycle the plastic to make sidewalk pavers, Gene had amassed more than 60,000 pounds. But it wasn't all plastic: The top layers were washed clean by rain and looked sparkly white, but over time debris that adhered to the old bale wrap had mixed with the weeds growing through the piles and with the mud at the base. It was a mess and we never did find out how much of the 60,000+ pounds was polyethylene plastic and how much was what is called 'contamination' in recycling circles. Blake Putman began the job of baling the jumble of plastic and Nate Leonard completed it in 2011 with help from Gene and friends. The bales filled nearly two tractor-trailer loads that were shipped to Lehman & Sons, Indiana recyclers who began the process of transforming the waste plastic into new products, in this case Terrewalk sidewalk pavers produced by a small firm called TERRECON.
NYS Environmental Protection Fund, administered by NYS DEC. Cornell Cooperative Extension Administration competitive grant ("Buy Recycled")
Recycling Agricultural Plastics Program, Cornell University
agriculture; agricultural plastics; bale wrap; recycling; plastic recycling markets