Are silage plastics old news? – Meghan Gebhardt, Silostop

Posted on February 1, 2019 in Forage Foundations
By Meghan Gebhardt, Silostop® regional manager
It’s become a common sight to see on a dairy farm – rolls of plastic film arrive and signify it’s nearly time to chop corn.  As we feed out the silo, cutting off that same plastic creates a small mountain to be carted away to a landfill or, hopefully, to be recycled.  Firm estimates are hard to come by, but it’s safe to say that the average dairy farm produces several thousand pounds of agricultural film waste each year.  Plastics provide sanitary, durable, and relatively lightweight solutions to many of the farm’s needs, but disposing of them can cause a headache.

The United States sent almost half of its recyclable material, including plastics, to China for many years before the Chinese government implemented policies in the beginning months of 2018 that cut that number down to effectively zero.  Since that time, some other nations, such as Malaysia and India, have picked up some of the slack, but a huge amount of plastic cannot be shipped away.  Turns out, the U.S. will need to do some of that recycling right here at home.

Revolution Plastics is one company that does just that.  Its business model is based on a closed-loop system.  Agricultural plastics are shipped to a facility in Arkansas, where it is cleaned, shredded and melted down into resin that can then be turned into a number of products.  Many farmers were excited to place Revolution Plastics dumpsters on their farms for easy pick-up and recycling of their silo plastics.  Some feel it will take more than one company to effectively recycle all of the material.

Of course, one way to reduce the amount of plastic that needs to be recycled is to use less in the first place.  Decreasing the amount of plastic used to produce silage has proven to be difficult.  While many attempts have been made to engineer a non-plastic alternative, silage plastic remains the current best option for covering bunkers and piles.  However, producers can consider covering the “underlay,” or oxygen barrier plastic, with reusable covers rather than thick 5- or 7-mil, white-on-black, single-use plastic.

Silostop offers a tightly woven, anti-UV cover to provide physical protection from critters and the elements, and to keep the sun’s damaging rays at bay.  These reusable covers are made from high-density polyethylene (HDPE), which is a type of plastic that can be used for many years and folded up and stored while not on the bunker or pile.  HDPE is used in the manufacturing of many products because of its high-strength properties.  Producers will need to use an oxygen barrier film, such as Silostop, under the HDPE covers as they are designed to allow air to go through them, which keeps them from flapping around in the wind.

These covers have become the standard in France and Germany where taxes on single-use plastic have encouraged dairy farmers to try them.  While anti-UV covers cost more than single-use plastic up front, producers will, in fact, save money over several years.  It is recommended to keep the covers an inch or two away from the edge of the bunker to prevent it from freezing to the sides.  Gravelbags or tires should be laid along the edges of the bunker or pile and across all overlaps to add additional weight.  As these covers are much heavier than standard white-on-black plastic, fewer weights are needed, which makes feedout easier.

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