A farmer-centric approach to addressing rural waste
Fraser Scott and Simon Andrew call for strong local partnerships with territorial local authorities to address rural waste issues. They were speaking at the WasteMINZ annual conference.
Inorganic rural waste in New Zealand is a serious problem. Research undertaken in Canterbury, Waikato and the Bay of Plenty suggested that up to 10 tonnes of plastics, chemicals, treated timber and other non-natural wastes are produced by New Zealand farms every year. And where does it go? Unfortunately, the majority of it is burned, buried in farm pits or stored in often precarious conditions in farm sheds.
Back in 2015, Environment Canterbury initiated the New Zealand Rural Waste Minimisation Project to understand the reasons for this situation and to help formulate an industry-led response to it. The project was undertaken by True North Consulting with communications support from Cherry Red Consulting.
The initial focus of the project was to create a framework for prioritising farm wastes. By considering waste volumes, potential harm and prevailing methods for handling wastes, a prioritised list of wastes was produced.
Unsurprisingly, this list placed an emphasis on agrichemicals, plastics, used oil and a number of other waste streams that were found to be present on farms in high volumes, and with a high potential for causing harm.
The next phase of the project focused on building an understanding of rural waste management in this country. Extensive research was undertaken to understand the extrinsic and intrinsic drivers acting on farmers to pursue alternative methods for managing waste.
Farmers were asked about the methods currently employed to dispose of farm waste. Eighty percent said that burning, burying or bulk storage of waste was a key method used to deal with waste.
Yet, it was clearly established that protecting the environment and the ‘legacy of the land’ particularly, were very high on farmers’ agendas.
Attention had to be focused, therefore, on determining what was preventing farmers from pursuing alternatives to more problematic methods for managing farm waste.
The research undertaken suggested five main barriers:
Cost: Burning, burying or storing waste is relatively cheap in direct terms. Service offerings tend not to be.
Inconvenience: Waste services to farmers may require significant travel by the farmer, or service provision may not be timely or reliable.
Lack of incentives: In most cases, there is no regulatory or other imperative for farmers to pursue alternative waste disposal.
Lack of awareness: Despite the best efforts of service providers, many farmers are simply unaware that services are available, or are confused about the details of service delivery, allowable products or pathways to secure service delivery.
Lack of economic viability: A service that is not seen as stable and likely to offer consistent service delivery is likely to be avoided. Farmers do not want to invest in the processes required to recycle waste if the company offering the service is not perceived as being sustainable.
Further research with farmers suggested that the preferences as to how farmers wished to deal with waste split them into two distinct groups with differing service needs and expectations.
Farmers producing high volumes of waste tended to be more comfortable paying for an on-farm collection service. Convenience was considered more important than cost avoidance. Farmers with lower volumes of waste tended to be more willing to drop waste off at a secondary location to avoid paying significant transportation costs. Cost avoidance was considered more important than convenience.
This realisation suggested that service delivery to farmers needed to be two-tier in order to encourage more ‘off-farm waste management’, with a drop-off option and an on-farm collection option.
Farmers also tended to be strong in their desire to ‘deal with everything all at once’. Having to deal with separate companies or organisations for each discrete waste stream was typically viewed as an annoyance, whereas being able to only deal with wastes from certain manufacturers or brands with a service provider was considered even more frustrating.
The concept of a ‘one-stop shop’ for farm waste emerged relatively early in the project as farmers articulated different aspects of an ‘ideal service’ that offered flexibility (a cost avoidance focus or a convenience focus), a commitment to understanding farmers’ needs and the ability to deal with all major waste streams simultaneously.
The ‘one-stop shop’ model became anchored around regional ‘pop-up recovery events’. These events were conceived as an opportunity for farmers willing to transport waste to bring a wide range of waste streams to a convenient location and drop them off at low or no cost.
This would include agrichemicals, agrichemical drums and containers, soft plastics, used oil and containers, and potentially other waste streams as required.
Concurrently, the service provider would coordinate on-farm collections for farmers with higher volumes of waste, particularly soft plastics and agrichemical containers, or agrichemicals that were unsafe to transport.
By providing a regional focus within a specified and predictable time window, a region would be ‘blitzed’ and farmers could plan and prepare appropriately. By making the events and accompanying service delivery regular (perhaps twice a year) and rationalising service delivery in this way, significant cost savings for both the service provider and farmers could be enjoyed.
From the outset, it was determined that the organisation best placed to deliver the ‘one-stop shop’ model was Agrecovery. As a non-profit organisation with a board that represents a cross-section of farming organisations and with a mandate to ‘address persistent farm waste issues’, Agrecovery was well-placed to expand from its core agrichemicals and agrichemicals containers programmes to offer a more comprehensive service to farmers.
Agrecovery was active in assisting in the development of the model design. And, working in partnership with territorial local authorities in Matamata and Geraldine, Agrecovery hosted two pilot events to test the model in action in May 2018.
The waste streams included were:
• HDPE containers and drums;
• Unwanted agrichemicals;
• Used oil;
• Woven polypropylene bags; and
• LDPE soft plastics (farm collection only).
The events were evaluated by the project consultants and by Agrecovery as being very successful and farmer feedback was particularly strong. The combined total waste collected from the events was:
• 5000 kilograms of agrichemical containers and drums;
• 2782 kilograms of unwanted agrichemicals;
• 5342 kilograms of unwanted oil;
• 2030 kilograms of fertiliser bags; and
• 4000 kilograms of silage wrap.
In total, 87 registered participants contributed approximately 19,100 kilograms of waste products for diversion from potentially harmful disposal practices.
Every interviewed attendee liked the idea of a ‘one-stop shop’ approach to rural recycling. Most attendees were strong in their support for the idea and stressed the importance of making the events regular.
Following the successful pilot events, Agrecovery expressed an intention to implement the model based on its articulation in the final New Zealand Rural Waste Minimisation Project Report, which was completed in June 2018.
Agrecovery now intends to further pilot and deploy the new model throughout 2019 and 2020. By implementing the ‘one-stop shop’ model Agrecovery aims to deliver strong and sustainable benefits for farmers and growers, and for the country. Key to successful deployment around New Zealand will be strong local partnerships with territorial local authorities that have a desire to address rural waste issues in their districts.
• Fraser Scott is MD of True North Consulting. firstname.lastname@example.org
• Simon Andrew is GM at Agrecovery. email@example.com