HILDRETH — Hundreds of large polyethylene grain storage bags are on their way to a more useful afterlife than being buried in landfills or stacked in farm bag piles.
At the CPI elevator in Hildreth and a Nebraska Department of Transportation lot in Ragan, grain bags were collected Wednesday from Lower Republican Natural Resources District farmers for recycling at an Arkansas plant.
“Previously, we’ve rolled them, folded them, tied them up and took them to the landfill,” said Conrad Anderson, an employee of farmer Chad Lindau. “... I hated seeing them go into the landfill.”
Anderson brought a trailer load of bags from the 2018 season — 18 at 250 feet long and 280 pounds each, one at 300 feet and 380 pounds — to the Hildreth collection site.
By the end of Wednesday, approximately 100 bags were on the Hildreth pile and 60 had been dropped of at Ragan, said Scott Dicke, LRNRD assistant general manager.
He expects the districtwide total to be around 800 bags, following collections in Arapahoe and north of Oxford today, and in Cambridge on Friday.
Lower Republican is the first NRD to organize such a large-scale grain bag collection project.
Dicke said it’s a public service to give farmers within the district an environmentally safe way to dispose of the one-time-use bags.
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Early south-central Nebraska adopters of grain bags used them to replace old or storm-damaged grain bins. Now, many farmers have embraced the bags’ value in grain handling systems that allow corn to be stored in fields at harvest time.
A 300-foot long bag holds 14,000-15,000 bushels of corn, depending on corn weight and how far a bag is stretched. Todd Whitney, a University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension Educator whose focus area includes Harlan and Furnas counties, has said an average of 2.5 bags are needed to hold the corn harvested from 160 irrigated acres.
A successful bag recycling project requires a connection to a recycler.
That’s where Steve Walmsley, a Kearney-based representative of Little Rock, Ark.-based Delta Plastics comes in. He focuses on selling the company’s polytube irrigation pipe, but knew that another Delta business, Revolution Plastics, would have interest in the many storage bags in south-central Nebraska.
Walmsley linked LRNRD officials with Revolution Plastics’ director of operations Price Murphy in Wisconsin who oversees collection of ag-related plastics.
Bags delivered to collection sites must be rolled tight with the end secured to ensure a good fit in truck trailers that can hold 60-80 bags, depending on bag sizes. It’s like a toilet paper roll, Walmsley said, “you don’t want that flap to come loose.”
The bags collected will be loaded onto trucks next week for transport to the Revolution Bag plant at Stuttgart, Ark. Walmsley said Delta contracted for third-party trucking, with 10 trucks initially on reserve. The LRNRD is responsible for loading the trucks.
The grain bags will undergo a patented cleaning process at the Revolution Bag plant, where they will be shredded, melted and made into “little bitty plastic pellets” known in the industry as post consumer resin pellets, Walmsley said.
He added that most recyclers won’t accept dirty plastics.
The pellets are made into trash bags that come in many sizes. Walmsley said many of those bags made with up to 97 percent recyclable materials are sold to school districts, hospitals, municipalities, airports and other places that must meet a “green initiative.”
Dicke said farmers paid no fees and no payments were made to Delta Plastics or Revolution Plastics to haul away and recycle the grain bags.
The LRNRD contributed in-kind staff services to do farmer surveys, identify collection sites, organize and staff collection days, and load trucks. Dicke said the district’s reward is providing farmers with a “what to do with the bags” solution that protects the environment.
“At least five different NRDs are asking how’d it go? What did you learn?” he said.
“It’s a great value to any farmer around here who uses bags,” said Anderson, as he prepared to drive away from the Hildreth collection site in his pickup pulling an empty flatbed trailer. “... It’s one less thing laying around the countryside blowing around. And they’re not going into the landfills.”