On January 1 this year the Scottish Government’s ban on farmers burning plastic waste on their farms, came into force. The rule brings Scotland into line with the rest of the UK, which has long banned the burning of plastic waste, in an effort to get the plastic diverted instead into recycling.

HeraldScotland: Farm waste was recently banned from traditional methods of burning it.Farm waste was recently banned from traditional methods of burning it.

In England and Wales, farmers are allowed to store plastic waste for just 12 months. Then it has to be disposed of. Plastic waste can pile up quickly, particularly farmers who use silage wrap, or whose crops need plastic covers.

Fertiliser bags and containers are also a problem.

In Scotland, the ban has created a significant opportunity for Peter Allison, whose own farm waste recycling business began 10 years ago. He noticed that thousands of tonnes of plastic used to provide cover for carrots, was going to landfill. “No one was in the business of washing this vast quantity of carrot cover plastic and it was too contaminated, as it came off the land, to be readily recycled. I researched ways of cleaning the polythene to the point where recycling companies would accept it, and turn it into plastic pellets,” he explains.

HeraldScotland: Waste pile of black silage wraps on farm.Waste pile of black silage wraps on farm.

Since then, his company, Peter Allison Agri Services Ltd, has specialised in providing farm waste recycling services around Dundee. “There was no one else in this area providing this kind of service at the time. In fact, there is a huge lack of farm plastic recycling capacity not just in the UK, but across Europe as a whole. The scale of this market is absolutely huge,” Allison says.

As part of its service to farmers, his company collects, shreds and washes the plastic, as well as drying and baling it, so that it is in a fit state for processors to accept.

He points out that the ban against burning soiled plastic sheeting on farms that is now in force in Scotland, has been a problem for English farmers since 2006. “It has created additional awareness of the problem amongst farmers in Scotland, but we were already handling huge tonnages. This stuff really piles up on farms and farmers are only too happy to be able to get rid of it in an ecologically sound fashion.

HeraldScotland: A common site we all know, but where does it go once its used?A common site we all know, but where does it go once its used?

Handing it over to us frees up a considerable amount of storage space on the farm and gets rid of unsightly mounds of soiled polythene film,” he says.

Allison charges a gate fee to collect the soiled plastic from farms, or the farmer can bring the material to a designated collection point. Recycling the plastic is both ecologically sound and in keeping with the Scottish Government’s desire to promote the circular economy.

Looked at from a commercial standpoint, Allison points out that the margin on recovered plastic is very slim. “This is a commodity, like any other, and with very few plastics re-processors and a huge potential supply, the laws of supply and demand mean that margins are going to stay low for some time to come. Plastic is an abundant commodity. This is a volume business, but we are doing sufficient volumes to make it viable,” he says.

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Government support for the recycling of farm waste is surprisingly absent, Allison says.

He says that he has applied a couple of times for funding for his business from Zero Waste Scotland, only to be told that his operation falls outside Zero Waste Scotland’s funding criteria. “I found that – and continue to find it – very frustrating. We are providing a very valuable waste recycling service that goes directly to a major waste problem. You would have thought that they could make even a modest token gesture of support.”

Allison works with plastics recycling companies across the UK and Europe. “It is important for us to make clear that we do not ship collected and washed plastic bales outside of Europe,” he notes.

Allison’s operation currently employs five people. He reckons that despite the tiny margins per tonne, the scope for growth is huge. “We are currently doing around 6,000 to 7,000 tonnes a year. There is plenty of scope for that tonnage figure to grow very substantially,” he says.

“I find it quite astonishing that the Westminster and Scottish governments are not pushing much harder to have many more plastics recycling plants established in the UK, instead of handing this business to other countries.

"We have a commitment to the circular economy and we can do things here in an environmentally sound and correct way, with all the environmental controls in place. Why more reprocessing is not done here in Scotland is completely mystifying,” he says.

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