click image to zoomGene Jones, Southern Waste Information eXchangeBales of used plastic mulch and drip tape await transport to a recycling operation.Until recently, growers who wanted to dispose of used plastic mulch or drip tape in an environmentally friendly way were out of luck.
“Those materials were either being landfilled or some farmers chose to burn them,” says John Szkolnik, chief executive officer of Recypoly Inc. in Labelle, Fla. “Neither of those disposal methods is sustainable.
“So we were looking for solutions to basically three things. We had to get the material, clean it and produce a marketable product.”
Those three challenges having been solved, Recypoly Inc. plans to open a new recycling plant in Labelle, Fla., before year’s end.
The company already is accepting plastic mulch, drip tape and silage bags from growers and will store it until equipment installation is complete, Szkolnik says.
To participate, all growers need do is separate the different types of plastic mulch, such as standard, metalized or VIF, and call the company for an appointment to deliver it. The company also accepts silage film, greenhouse film and most other LDPE, or low-density polyethylene) plastic film.
Szkolnik says growers still have to pay to haul the material to Recypoly, but they don’t have to pay landfill tipping charges, which can average $40 per ton. So recycling can save them money.
In addition, the company will issue recycling certificates, so growers can note that in sustainability reports required by some buyers and be greener at the same time.
Since spring, growers have already delivered more than 10,000 tons of the material, Szkolnik says.
Part of an overall sustainability culture
Among those delivering to Recypoly is Immokalee-based Lipman Produce, which lays thousands of miles of plastic mulch every year, says Justin Roberson, Lipman’s manager of production systems and sustainability. The past season, the farming operation recycled more than 1,200 tons of plastic mulch, he says.
But recycling is just a small part of Lipman’s overall sustainability culture.
“From a general standpoint, we look at sustainability as an integrated value-based component of the business,” Roberson says. “We build it into our daily operations, and we want it to be part of that culture. So recycling just falls into that.”
Roberson says Lipman is fortunate to be vertically integrated from seed production through transportation logistics. Having that control throughout the value chain provides greater opportunities to minimize inputs and at the same time maximize yield potential and other outputs.