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Recycling: A multi-stepped process that involves collecting used material, reclaiming it,and then manufacturing new products with the recycled content. The term usually refers to mechanical transformation of used material, e.g., shredding old plastic and then heating and molding the pieces into a new form. However, pyrolysis and related technologies use heat, pressure and, in some cases, a catalyst to chemically recycle plastic back to oils, gases, waxes, and simple monomers.

Materials that enter the recycling stream are not fully recycled until they are made into something new by one of these processes. I.e., simply hauling recyclables away from the farm (or other place where they were used) does not constitute recycling.


bale of dairy film ready to market

The recycling life cycle involves users who separate recyclables from garbage, haulers who collect the recyclables, and reclaimers (also called processors) who do some of the following: clean, shred, compact, densify, pelletize, etc.

Reclaimers will buy plastic recyclate from haulers only if they can sell their processed plastic to manufacturers who will incorporate it into new products. (To increase efficiency, improve the profit margin, and guarantee that they will have an adequate supply, many recycling companies carry out more than one of these recycling functions. They will, for example, both collect and process plastic, or process and also manufacture new products.)

For recycling to be successful and sustainable over time, consumers—industrial and commercial buyers, government procurement offices, and individuals—must choose to buy products that are made with recycled content. Purchasing power is the fuel that keeps the gears of recycling turning.

At risk of overplaying this metaphor, the quality of the recyclate is the throttle on the recycling engine. The system will chug along smoothly only when the material intended for recycling meets the quality specifications of the designated recycling market. If it does not, the market will not accept the plastic and the delicately balanced system will grind to a halt.


Recycling Plastics Used in Agriculture is a video created in 2010 by Blake Putman, environmental educator and former NYS Field Coordinator of Cornell University’s Recycling Agricultural Plastics Project (RAPP), from interviews with dairy farmer Jim Putman and Clinton County, NY, Soil and Water Conservation District manager Steve Mahoney. The three give an overview of how plastic film is used on farms and the problem of disposal. They describe the nascent NYS agricultural plastics recycling program that was a collaborative effort of RAPP, the Clinton County SWCD and other local agencies. Blake submitted an earlier version of this video to the Pepsi Corporation for a grant competition to fund the recycling program in Northern NY.