DIFFERENTIATING AGRICULTURAL PLASTIC PRODUCTS by RESIN & COLOR

CHARACTERISTICS THAT MATTER TO RECYCLERS

Many different products fit under the umbrella of agricultural plastics.

Farmers and the organizers of agricultural plastics recycling programs—i.e., the people supplying used plastics to recycling markets—should be knowledgeable and clear about what products they have and which resin(s) the products are made from.

Why? Because agricultural plastic products differ in characteristics important to recyclers. Most recycling markets are particular about which resins they can accept for processing. Processors may also be picky about color and will almost certainly care about the level of contamination[1] in the loads of plastic they purchase and whether the plastic is rigid, a film or in some other form,[2] such as twine or netting.

The table below lists agricultural plastic products alphabetically and identifies them by form, by the resin typically used to make the product, and by its usual color. When agricultural plastics are collected for recycling, the products listed in each row of the table should be kept separate from those in the other rows because they have different characteristics.

Depending on the manufacturer and product model, even products listed on the same row might be made from different resins.  E.g., irrigation drip tape and maple tubing are usually made from a mix of polyethylenes, but sometimes from PVC. Even when these products look similar, they should be separated by resin type.

Refer to the FAQ Identifying Common Plastics Used in Agriculture[3] for simple tests and observational cues to help identify and differentiate among the common resins used for agricultural plastic products.

It is best to also separate a product group by color, even when other characteristics are the same. The reason is that clear and light-colored plastics generally have a higher value than dark plastic. This is because the range of options for the ‘next life’ of clear plastics is broader, in part because clear and light-colored plastics can be dyed to other colors more easily and economically than dark plastics. Mixing light and dark plastic together lowers the value of the entire load.

The exception to the rule “keep like with like” is that on occasion a recycling market will tell the supplier that it is OK to mix certain products in one load or even in one bale. But a word to the wise: keep products separated until you are certain that the load is going to the recycler who says the mixed load is OK!

[1] In this context, contamination refers to anything in the load other than the plastic being marketed. Contaminants include moisture, soil, grit, stones, and vegetative debris. Levels of contamination vary by product (e.g., mulch film and other plastics that touch the ground have more soil contamination) and by the way the plastic is handled and stored. Contamination can be minimized by following recommended handling/storage practices.

[2] The second column of the table, headed F/R/O, identifies and differentiates film plastics (F), rigid plastics (R) and forms that are neither film nor rigid, e.g., flexible drip tape and polytwine (using O for other).

[3] Identifying Common Plastics Used in Agriculture. Levitan 2016. http://hdl.handle.net/1813/42332  (see Agricultural Plastics for identification flow chart and summary).

Table: Agricultural Plastic Products Differentiated by Resin & Color

Table-AgPlasticProdListedByType,Resin,Color

This list of agricultural plastic products will evolve as new uses for plastics in agricultural production and packaging are developed and marketed, and new or different resins are used to make the products. If you know of a product that should be added to this list, or have other information about resins or colors, please send a note to agplasticsrecycling@cornell.edu.

Thanks to Nate Leonard, NYS Field Coordinator, NYS RAPP, Cornell University, for reviewing information in the Table.

[pdf of Fact Sheet, 2pp., text & Table: Agricultural Plastic Products Differentiated by Resin & Color.]

[Slides illustrating the products listed in the table: Agricultural Plastics in Pictures]

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