Lynn Leavitt has the squeeze on bale wrap and twine disposal with his U-Pak AgriService compaction process to recycle farm plastic.
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His determination to find an environmentally friendly solution to dispose of used bale wrap, silage bags and twine sparked the development of an innovative Pac-It compactor system to bale large quantities of clean, dry plastic wrap and twine.
For his creation, he was awarded the Beef Farmers of Ontario 2023 Environmental Stewardship Award.
Why it matters: Environmental disposal of on-farm plastics and twine has long challenged farmers, but Leavitt’s’ process has diverted 250,000 pounds of scrap plastic wrap and bale twine from landfills.
“My vision is to see all the plastic inventory in Ontario compacted and sitting on a farm ready for a processor,” said Leavitt, who operates Leavitt’s Black Angus Beef in Prince Edward County. “We have found that processor.”
Pointing to an image of a tall, rectangular slatted box, Leavitt said clean sheets of plastic are folded and laid on the bottom, and used wrap is tumbled in until the compactor is full.
“Because the processors desire clean plastic in large quantities, and because our municipalities work on a cost recovery basis, I developed what we do, U-Pak AgriServices,” said Leavitt. “And I believe that the farm is where the answer for this problem starts.”
Draping bale wrap over something to dry for 24 hours and giving it a shake afterwards would provide the level of cleanliness that end users seek. If every producer in Ontario did that, nearly every piece of agriculture-related bale wrap, silage wrap and twine could be recycled, said Leavitt.
“You give it a squish with the tractor and fellows, it’s not about the size of the tractor,” he said. “It’s about how long we leave it on there. We’ve got to express the air from in between the layers of plastic, so that takes some time.”
He joked that the only things working on his farm while he sleeps are the tomcat, dog, bull and compactor.
Unlike bale wrap, silage bags and bunker covers have a different density, so two people are needed to load the compactor, which will hold about 500 pounds.
“All plastics are not made the same; it’s a lot like beef production,” he said.
“Quality in, quality out. It’s always easy to sell a load of good cattle, and likewise, it’s easy for good quality plastic that’s clean. It’s in high demand. Folks are always interested in that.”
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Before ejecting the bale from the compactor, Leavitt ties it off with six big bale twine strings. Every 45 inches of compressed bale wrap weighs 1,000 lb.
Leavitt’s most significant challenge regarding plastic bale storage is water penetration, so he uses a plastic endcap.
“When I started, I wanted to recycle baler output,” he said. “What I (found) out was I can’t do it on my own. It’s a project we’ve all got to be a part of.”
A Centre Hastings farmer who purchased a compactor showed up the following year with nine bales weighing approximately 10,000 lb. Leavitt assembled the bales at his farm, borrowed three hay wagons from a neighbour and took them to a warehouse where he buys bale wrap.
Within 48 hours of calling, the processor arrived, and with help from the bale wrap people, they loaded 45 bales in 50 minutes.
U-Pac AgriServices has made the Pac-It compactor, or its blueprints, available to farmers provincewide and has diverted nearly 250,000 lb. of plastic farm waste from landfills to a licenced recycling plant in Ontario. Leavitt has compacted 30,000 lb. at his farm.
“This tool has the potential to change the way ag plastic is recycled on farms. It makes recovery, transport and recycling significantly more efficient and cost-effective,” said Christine Lajeuness, eastern director of CleanFarms.
“Born out of Lynn’s ingenuity, the compaction unit allows the producers to manage the plastic in a safe and efficient manner.”
Leavitt said a processor recently told Quebec’s CleanFarms that it would take 200 tonnes a year of clean bale wrap compacted at the farm level.
“That’s pretty exciting news to hear that they’re moving forward,” he said. “They’re working to have more plastic compacted at the farm level. They’ve done some research studies for improvement to see if this is what we need to do.”
Leavitt’s determination to build an on-farm solution to agricultural plastic waste earned him the Premier’s Award for Agri-Food Innovation and the 2022 Don Hill Legacy Award, recognizing his creative and innovative solutions to environmental challenges on the farm.
“Lynn has dedicated countless hours to educating farmers, organizations, end-users and policymakers about the obstacles and opportunities in collecting and recovering this plastic,” said Steph Vanthof, Ontario Federation of Agriculture member service representative.