Feeding the world’s growing population
New Zealand’s reputation as a quality food producer is growing.
The Fertiliser Association of New Zealand promotes and encourages responsible and scientifically-based nutrient management.
AgRecovery has been trialling a project that enables farmers and growers to drop off all their recyclable inorganic waste at one location. This one-stop-shop solution aims to stop waste from being left out in the fields or buried on site.
The issue of waste in the agricultural sector is all too real. According to Simon Andrew, AgRecovery's General Manager, an average farm can produce up to 10 tonnes of inorganic waste per year. "It's a problem but our research indicates that farmers and growers definitely want to do the right thing in terms of managing inorganic waste," says Simon.
"The problems up until this point have included a lack of awareness of the programmes that currently exist, difficulties in engaging with those services and also some of the costs associated with recycling."
Last year AgRecovery initiated two highly successful pilot projects in Matamata and Geraldine, collecting more than 16 tonnes of product in just two days. "We're keen to have more events this year to provide more opportunities for farmers to engage with the programme."
Simon explains that some agricultural products are easier to process than others and can be made into useful products. For instance, rigid agrichemical containers can be recycled into underground cable covers. Polypropylene bags can become irrigation tubes and rope. New Zealand fertiliser companies are already encouraging farmers to return any packaging waste to their stores so that they can be given to third parties to manage the recycling process.
"Unfortunately, the money earned from selling plastic isn't enough to cover costs of collection and processing, especially given the challenging markets at the moment," says Simon.
In 2017 the China National Sword policy took effect, meaning the Chinese government no longer accepts 'junk plastic' from offshore. New Zealand's plastic can be recycled in Malaysia and Thailand but it costs money. "We are strong advocates of product stewardship - where manufacturers and importers take responsibility for the products they put out to the market. This includes ensuring any packaging can be collected and recycled after use. We're proposing a levy to cover the overheads and infrastructure, and to ensure there is a viable collection, processing and recyclable pathway for all products."
Simon explains that even if the overseas market improves, there are other concerns. "We want to make sure the product ends up in an ethical facility. And from a carbon emissions point of view it's better to actually process our waste at home in New Zealand and provide the opportunities associated with that."
AgRecovery and central government are focussing on facilitating the processing of products that are difficult to clean and recycle.
"We can easily facilitate collection, but the challenging part is finding markets for the recycled products. Plans are in motion to address these issues - which are wider than just farms.
"While it's fantastic that there's a public narrative around plastics and the need to clean up after ourselves, one of the things that's got lost is that plastic is still a very useful tool. So long as you have systems in place to capture plastics they can be used again and again. The key will be to capture those and continue to use them through a circular economy approach.
"What really needs to happen in New Zealand is secondary processing. Ideally, we could create a post-consumer resin or regrind that can be sold on the international market. Or better still, use that product here in New Zealand to make new products."
Simon says that engagement from a wide range of stakeholders is essential for this project to work.
"We have an advisory group, which includes representation from the fertiliser industry, which is taking a lead role in being part of the solution. Farmers and growers also need to continue being involved and make an effort to participate in existing recycling programmes. At the end of the day, we can't develop solutions for this project in isolation - we need to take people along with us."