100 Million Pounds, And Growing

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In October 2008, the Ag Con­tainer Recycling Council (ACRC) celebrated the collection and recycling of 100 million pounds of triple-rinsed pesticide containers in a commemorative event held in Courtland, VA. To put this laudable accomplishment in perspective, consider:

•  If lined up end-to-end, the containers would circle the Earth 1.5 times.
•  It has provided energy savings equal to 20.25 million gallons of gasoline.
•  It has resulted in the reduction of 19,500 metric tons of carbon equivalent.
•  It has saved more than 500,000 cubic yards of valuable landfill space.

Founded in 1992 and completely funded since its inception by leading manufacturers of crop protection products, ACRC has continuously managed the collection and recycling of triple-rinsed plastic from agricultural crop protection, specialty pest control, micronutrient/fertilizer, and/or adjuvant product containers at a cost approaching $50 million. This model product stewardship program, arguably the oldest in the U.S., continues to serve as an exemplary model for other industries in the growing trend of being “green” and demonstrating sustainability.

State Support

The model program receives high praise from state and federal officials alike. “EPA commends ACRC and its member companies for their continuing leadership in the area of pesticide container recycling. Programs like this advance the nation’s public health and environmental protection goals and are a model for acting holistically to achieve sustainability consistent with our shared principles of corporate environmental stewardship,” says Nancy Fitz, chemical engineer, U.S. EPA Office of Pesticide Programs. “The plastic pesticide container recycling program offers agricultural producers and custom applicators a convenient option for disposing of their empty pesticide containers.”

Holly Cushman, the Hazardous Waste & Toxics Reduction Program, Washington State Department of Ecology says: “This program, is environmentally-friendly, promotes public health and safety, and reduces waste. It is a win-win program for our environment and our neighbors.”

Now in its 18th year, ACRC — representing its 28 current member companies — has committed to funding the recycling of an additional 9 million pounds of pesticide containers in 2009. This would represent a recycling rate of approximately 35%; the highest rate for any type of plastic packaging in the U.S. To accomplish this objective, ACRC employs five independent contractors who service approximately 1,500 collection sites across the U.S. in a cost-effective manner that fosters public health and safety, environmental protection, resource conservation, and customer convenience. The limiting factor to collection is the participation of pesticide users and the availability of collection sites within reasonable driving distances.

Finding Funding

ACRC receives no government funding and is supported entirely by member company dues. ACRC conducts a survey of its members to determine what volume (weight) of high-density polyethylene (HDPE) plastic they put in the U.S. marketplace annually as a result of crop protection product sales. Members are required to report sales of all products in HDPE containers that bear their label, even if another company made the product or filled the containers. Six categories of container sizes are included in the survey, ranging from less than 1 gallon to 55 gallons, which then is used to calculate the total annual weight of plastic placed on the market by the members. Dues are equitably assessed on each member’s share of plastic generated relative to other members of ACRC. All survey and dues data are held confidential.

Understanding ACRC

Is every pesticide manufacturer a member of ACRC?
While not all companies that generate plastic containers are members of the ACRC, it is estimated that ACRC membership is composed of companies that sell over 85% of all pesticides sold in the U.S. Nevertheless, as a non-profit organization, ACRC collects and recycles all agricultural and specialty pesticide containers, whether they originated with a member company or not. While those companies that choose to join ACRC bear the full cost, the benefits resulting from this dedicated commitment to environmentally responsible container disposal are enjoyed by the entire industry.

What types of containers are accepted for recycling?
All non-refillable, HDPE #2 plastic crop protection and other specialty pesticide product containers are accepted in sizes up to and including 55 gallons. Pesticide users can find the closest collection site by visiting ACRC’s Web site at www.acrecycle.org, and calling the ACRC contractor that services the user’s state.

Containers must be empty, triple-, or pressure-rinsed, and dry both inside and outside before they can be accepted at the collection site.

How are containers collected?
ACRC contractors collect containers from growers, retailers, applicators, and government-sponsored collection sites in 40 states. Contractors provide service to collection sites on an established schedule; inspecting containers to certify that they have been triple rinsed before grinding them into “flakes.” Flakes are blown directly into enclosed shipping containers on site. Contractors continue on prescribed routes from site to site aggregating truck load quantities before transporting the plastic to their storage facilities.

How are the containers recycled?
Chipped containers are shipped to plastic processors who wash the plastic flake to remove paper and other contaminants. The clean recycled plastic that results is then sold to ACRC-approved end-users that use the plastic in ACRC-approved end use products. To ensure that there are no environmental, public health, or safety concerns associated with the plastic, ACRC has conducted extensive risk assessment studies. In addition to risk analysis on end-use products, ACRC has conducted studies to monitor worker exposure to pesticides during the processing (grinding, mixing, and extrusion) of plastic obtained from emptied pesticide containers. Exposure studies were carried out during the fabrication of samples used in the study as well as at two facilities where recovered plastic was being processed. All plastic collected in ACRC’s recycling program is used in a very limited number of approved safe end uses. Currently, most of the recycled plastic is used in the manufacture of field drain tile.

ACRC is continually trying to expand the reach of the program through promotion at state agri-business conferences and national conferences such as the Ag Retailers Association. ACRC’s mission is to educate users how easy it is to rinse and return their containers to be recycled. Retailers can play a critical role by providing their customers with convenient and user friendly location to drop off their triple-rinsed containers.

If you have an interest in demonstrating your commitment to good pesticide stewardship to your neighbors or state and local regulatory agencies in an easy and highly visible manner, please call us toll-free at 877-952-2272 or visit our Web site, www.acrecycle.org.

Perkins is executive director of ACRC, Lexington, VA.

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