2016 Finalist

This project has been selected as a finalist in the Sustainable Business category:

recycling agricultural/marine plastics

Project Summary

This project serves two separate, very strong components of the business community throughout Minnesota. These entities, agricultural producers and the marine industry, utilize very similar plastic film products and face similar challenges with proper management and recycling of the material. In response to numerous statewide requests asking for better recycling and management options for agricultural plastics and boat wrap, the Recycling Association of Minnesota (RAM) stepped forward in 2014, in the role of primary project coordinator, identifying and working with all stakeholders to address the problem. Key partners; Tri-County South, McLeod and Dakota counties and MN Dept. of Agriculture are major contributors in the effort.

The purpose of this project is to:

  • Identify and establish economically and environmentally sustainable methods for recycling/managing waste agricultural film plastics (silage bunker covers, bale wrap, etc.) and the protective plastic wrap for boats.
  • Establish an ongoing partnership including: agricultural producers and organizations; marine related businesses; end market recyclers ; plastics manufacturing businesses; local government and private Materials Recovery Facilities (MRFs); and solid waste and recycling management & education entities which can cooperatively work together to bring resolution to the problem.
  • Educate related populations/stakeholders.

In Minnesota, 460,000 dairy cows alone generate an estimated 15-20 pounds of plastic per head each year. This, combined with plastic from beef and other livestock operations, leaves a staggering 10+ million pounds of waste plastic annually. While farmers want to manage their waste plastics responsibly, lack of options means most of this plastic is either sent to a landfill, buried, or burned on site. Prior to this project, virtually none was recycled.

This project is working to provide viable alternatives for farmers to move away from improper and in many cases, illegal, disposal of agricultural plastic film wastes, reducing pollution, soil contamination and future liability issues.

County, city and privately owned Materials Recovery Facilities (MRFs) are generally unable to recycle the materials when they do come in to their facilities and face many problems as the long tangles of dirty plastic jam up and damage equipment which has not been designed to handle that sort of material.

Marinas, boat dealerships and storage businesses also generate tons of this type of plastic film annually. Opportunities to recycle marine plastics have been limited to parts of the Metro area with Choice Plastics, Up North Plastics and Republic Services. This project is expanding those options while opening up opportunities in greater Minnesota areas through the efforts of project partners including the ‘I-94 Corridor Boat Wrap Coalition’, McLeod County and Tri-County South.

Pilot hubs have been initiated in several separate geographical areas of the state for the purpose of setting up and testing collection points and methods; identifying and locating appropriate equipment, temporary storage models, addressing transportation issues, end markets, and educational /promotional strategies. Through this project, selected agricultural film plastics are accepted for no charge at McLeod County and by some recycling brokers. In addition, farmers in some pilot project counties can drop off plastics for recycling at no charge. This increases recycling rates and reduces improper disposal methods. 

Website URL


Project Partners

  • Tri-County Solid Waste (South) Sibley, Nicollet and Le Sueur counties- Al Christensen
  • McLeod County Solid Waste/Recycling- Don Hopp
  • Dakota County/ Rural Solid Waste Commission- Renee Burman
  • Tri-County Solid Waste Commission (North) Stearns, Sherburne and Benton counties- Doug Lien
  • Spadgenske Farms- Kris & Mark Spadgenske
  • Minnesota Milk Producers
  • Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) Market Development-Wayne Gjerde
  • Minnesota Department of Agriculture(MDA)- Curt Zimmerman
  • Pope/Douglas Solid Waste Management-Nathan Reinbold
  • Aquapoly /Erema–Adam Hays

How did the project partners work together?


  • Initial Stakeholders Forum held in St Cloud sponsored by Tri-county (North) Doug Lien RAM and MPCA-Wayne Gjerde. Representatives from private and public agricultural, plastics manufacturing, Solid Waste /Recycling sectors attended.
  • Stakeholders meetings continued all year with additional partners CHS (Cenex,) MDA, Aqua-Poly and others continued working on solutions
  • Ag plastic presentations given at the RAM/SWANA Conference


  • Began Ag plastic recycling pilot projects with Tri-County South and Dakota County with assistance from MN Dept. of Agriculture grant.
  • McLeod Co. confirmed markets and RAM moved ahead with program establishment.
  • Pilot project presentations at RAM/SWANA conference by Tri-County So. and Dakota Co.
  • Minnesota Farmers Union provided booth space at their annual convention.
  • Held a very well attended stakeholder meeting in Waite Park with participants from across Minnesota and Arkansas, Texas, California and other locations via phone


  • I-94 corridor group –Boat Wrap; Central and Northern MN Solid Waste Administrators met and planned collection options for coming spring.
  • Meeting at McLeod County- presented situation and needs to MDA Commissioner Fredrickson, PCA Asst. Commissioner Koudelka, Congressman Colin Peterson’s office, Area County Commissioners, agricultural organization leaders and others.
  • Presented overview of Ag Plastic/Boat Wrap project to the Solid Waste Administrators Assoc. of MN
  • Presentations/ discussions at the Minnesota Milk Dairy Workshops in Rochester, Perham and Hutchinson to a combined audience of just under 200 Dairy farmers and related businesses. Crucial assistance from Minnesota Milk organization.

Educational Efforts: Est. total audience: 700+ directly connected people

Additional Partners:

Solid Waste/Recycling collection assistance: Rotochopper, Republic Services, Bueckers Sanitation, Tennis Sanitation Services, Winona County,

Plastics Recyclers/Manufacturers/ Distributors:

Choice Plastics, Up North Plastics, Delta Plastics,

How is the project groundbreaking?

The use of film plastics in within the agricultural and marine sectors has been on the increase for the past 15-20 years, while many stakeholders recognized a need, current disposal, recycling and processing methods have not kept up with this relatively new component of the waste stream. Few local government or private facilities provide any recycling opportunities.

RAM and its partners saw the need for overall identification and coordination of stakeholders from every sector impacted by the plastics. In the course of two years, they researched and laid the groundwork for recycling of this material dependent upon development of crucial markets.

For the first time, agricultural film plastics now have an outlet for recycling in Minnesota and this project continues to work on expansion of these opportunities where ever possible. A key to success in this effort stems from bringing together diverse stakeholders, many of whom previously had not had the opportunity to collaborate, to hear and discuss the barriers and realities in place for each of them and to understand that the management of these waste plastics has risen to a level requiring coordinated action.

While the recycling and proper management of agricultural and boat wrap plastics may not be the most pressing issue for any of the stakeholders individually, it has risen to a level of critical mass and concern constituting a situation which can and should be addressed and resolved. It is not rocket science, but rather, something “doable” with environmentally and economically important benefits. 

What are the project goals?

Project Goals: Establish environmentally and economically sustainable methods for properly managing waste agricultural plastic and boat wrap.

  • Identify, connect and educate stakeholders across all sectors of the issue; Recognize and address the barriers each of them face and build sustainable working relationships.
  • Reduce or eliminate common current practices of disposal through burning and /or burying on site, thus preventing toxic air emissions and soil/ groundwater contamination.
  • Initiate convenient and affordable options to recycle waste plastic for agricultural producers and for boat dealerships, marinas and boat storage businesses in all areas of the state. Recognizing that without realistic measures, the status quo will continue.
  • Relieve logistical problems presented by the large, unwieldy plastics at solid waste and recycling facilities, thereby reducing costly equipment shutdowns and breakage.
  • Reduction of these plastics in the waste stream at Waste to Energy Plants to reduce operational costs due to equipment shutdowns and high emissions control costs.
  • Identify and establish collection hubs to address important storage and transportation issues.
  • Establish business opportunities for recycling the collected plastics here in Minnesota thereby providing jobs and reducing transportation costs.
  • Identify and establish markets for the used plastic film to insure stability of the program. There is no future in collection of a material for recycling if there is no viable market for it. 

What are the project outcomes?

Stakeholders have had the chance to hear and understand barriers and opportunities that exist for all sectors involved with recycling and proper management of agricultural and marine film plastics. While there is still significant unmet need, recycling opportunities now exist for Ag plastics and/ or boat wrap in several parts of the state, and interest in resolving problem continues to grow across all sectors. Plastics manufacturers and recyclers servicing these markets have been at the table for solution oriented discussions. Some large Ag related corporations have begun efforts to address the issue within their companies.

Recycling these plastics conserves resources by keeping the plastic resins available for use as a feedstock in plastics manufacture, rather than converting to energy or burying them in a landfill.

McLeod County MRF in Hutchinson

  • Established contracts with recycling markets for an unlimited quantity of Ag plastic and boat wrap.
  • Recycled 20T of Ag film in 2015
  • As a direct result of the stakeholder meetings:
    • 226,000 # of ag bags collected from Haubenschild Farms
    • One semi-truck load of horticultural plastics collected and recycled from Untied Vegetable Farm- Montrose

Tri-County Solid Waste

  • In 2015 recycled ~20.18 Tons total film plastics:
    • 25,320 # of Ag bags
    • 15,040# of boat wrap
  • Dakota County
  • 21,920 pounds of Ag plastic film collected & recycled from three locations in Dakota County. Partnered with Tennis Sanitation for collection services.

I-94 corridor group: Pope-Douglas Solid Waste Management set up a boat wrap collection system for spring 2016 to accept boat wrap from Stevens, Grant, Pope, Douglas and surrounding counties. Stearns and Otter Tail County plans in progress. 

Event Details

Thursday, May 25, 2017
5:00 - 5:45 p.m. Registration & reception
5:45 - 8:00 p.m. Dinner & program
8:00 - 9:00 p.m. Dessert & reception 

Nicollet Island Pavilion
40 Power Street
Minneapolis, MN 55401

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Presenting Sponsors

Environmental Lay Group

Great River Energy

Reception sponsor

25th Anniversary Sponsors


Community Action

Critical Collaborator

Stoel Rives LLP

Emerging Leader


Energy and Climate

The Weidt Group

Natural Resources

Sustainable Business

Supporting Sponsors

Minnesota Power

partner SPONSORs

In-kind sponsors


CliftonLarsonAllen LLP

Consulate General of Canada

Rochester Public Utilities

Associate Sponsors

Bremer Bank
G & K Services
Nova Consulting
Smith Partners