These guidelines were developed after some sad experiences in RAPP’s early years, before we knew what were important criteria for selecting storage locations and practices. Thus sometimes bales sat on wet ground, sometimes on a gravel base, often in sites without adequate loading equipment and sometimes in places snowbound in winter. Consequently outgoing shipments were delayed and often lightweight. Some bales that were initially made well had deteriorated by the time they were shipped. Markets were not happy. These guidelines reflect the experienced insights of transfer station operators and the know-how RAPP staff and partners gained over time.

Criteria to Consider in Selecting a Storage Site

  • Centrally located for farmers and others who will be delivering the bales, such as Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD) personnel, but sufficiently out-of-the-way so as not to attract attention or invite anonymous drop-offs.
  • Adequate space for at least 60 finished bales (40”cubes) to accommodate material of different types that may need to be shipped to different markets.
  • Sufficient space so that bales are not moved time and again to accommodate other stored materials.
  • Flat, dry surface to stack bales—e.g., a concrete pad or packed earth barn floor.
  • If there is a chance the ground will get wet or if the ground surface is gravel or grit, then a supply of pallets on hand.
  • Roof-cover is great to keep bales out of sun and rain/snow, but is not necessary. Bales can be covered with a tarp.
  • Scales to weigh the bales upon delivery.
  • Restricted access with staff who know the quality standards and thus can accept/reject the delivered bales.
  • A loading dock (or loading ramp) or another combination of equipment to load bales into an enclosed trailer, maneuver the bales within the trailer, and stack the bales two-high. The equipment combinations could be, for example, a loading dock and a skid steer/fork lift or a skid steer/fork lift and a pallet jack.
  • Staff or contract labor to operate the equipment.
  • Permission to store bales for the duration of time needed to amass a full tractor-trailer load. A full load is about 40 1000-lb. bales, 40” on a side. Some otherwise ideal locations have restrictions for how long recyclables can remain on-site, and/or also have limited hours when open for pick-up.
  • In New York State, storage sites must be registered with the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) as a Solid Waste Management Facility, or the site must have a permit for these purposes. If the site is not already registered/permitted, a registration form must be filed with Regional NYS DEC office, as explained in detail in the RAPP factsheet Registering Sites Where Plastic Will Be Stored: NYS DEC Forms & Instructions ( Other states may have similar requirements.


Transport Vehicle

  • Request a 53’ enclosed tractor-trailer van.
  • Avoid using a flatbed both because flatbeds cannot carry as many bales as an enclosed van and because of the potential destructive impact of wind on bale integrity.
  • However, if a flatbed is used and the bales are palletized, the bales must be strapped to the pallets.


Pallets, or Not

  • Pallets will keep bales off-the-ground and therefore drier and cleaner while they are in storage.
  • Bales on pallets can be moved more easily with less chance of damage to the bale. Forks fit neatly into the pallet rather than spearing the bale.
  • However, most truckers do not want the bales left on pallets for shipping. In fact larger companies typically find pallets to be in the way when unloading.
  • But some truckers require bales to be palletized for shipping. If the storage site does not have spare pallets, be certain to arrange for a trucker who does not require palletized loads.
  • If bales will be shipped on pallets:
    • The pallets should be no wider than 42” on a side because the interior width of most shipping containers is 84”-90” and two larger pallets will not fit side-by-side,.
    • Bales should not be strapped to the pallet for transport in an enclosed trailer van.
    • Bales stacked on top of other bales on the trailer should not be palletized.


Loading Procedure and Personnel

  • The typical procedure is that a trucking dispatcher will call the pick-up site contact and give a 4-hour window of time during which the truck is expected to arrive.
  • It is advisable to request contact information for the trucker so that direct communication can be established. As delivery time approaches, the trucker will be able to more precisely give the expected time of arrival and might appreciate local knowledge about getting to/from the pick-up location, etc.
  • Labor must be provided to load the truck; in most situations the trucker does not participate in loading/unloading.
  • The provided labor must be able to operate the loading equipment—e.g., skid steer, pallet jack, etc.—and must be available during the delivery window given by the trucking dispatcher.
  • Bales should be loaded side-by-side and two high—e., four bales per row.
  • It is best not to store bales longer than a year because the wires may corrode and the bales tend to become rounded.
  • Bale weight should be distributed through the length of the trailer so that the maximum permitted load on each axle is not exceeded.


Equipment for Loading

  • Most professionals consider loading docks or loading ramps to be the most efficient way to load a tractor-trailer van. With this system, a forklift or skid-steer either lifts the bales into the van or carries the bales up the loading dock ramp and into the trailer. The forklift or skid-steer goes up the ramp into the van and maneuvers the bales into place in the van, two-high and two-wide. Four feet is the standard height of a loading dock.
  • Loading docks/ramps can be constructed in a variety of ways and can be portable or put in a fixed location. In any case they must be sturdy enough to withstand the weight of the loading equipment plus 1000-lb. bales.
  • As an alternative to a loading dock or ramp, some professionals suggest that a fork lift could be used in conjunction with a pallet (bale) jack without a loading dock. With this combination of equipment, the forklift lifts a stack of two bales onto the bed of the van. The bale jack is lifted into the van and maneuvers the already-stacked bales into position. However, other professionals do not think a bale jack is adequate to handle two bales of this size and recommend against this system.
  • Another possible alternative to a loading dock or ramp is to use a tractor-trailer with a lift gate, maneuvering the bales with a hand truck. However, it will not be possible to stack bales two-high when maneuvering with a hand truck, so loads are unlikely to meet the target weight.
  • Orient the bales so they will not roll into side walls of the van (i.e., the tie wires should run in the direction of the length of the trailer). This is an issue in particular with bales that have become somewhat rounded over time.


Labeling Bales

  • Include: Name of the farm or producer; city and state where the plastic was used; what is in the bale; date the bale was made; bale weight, if known.
  • Why? For quality control. The purpose of the label is to know what is in the bale, and where the material came from. It should be possible to track bales back to their point of origin, i.e., to the farm where the plastic was used. Recyclers sometimes need to give feedback to producers, or even reject bales that are not up-to-snuff. This may happen if stones or excess debris is mixed with the plastic, if the bale contains a mix of different kinds of plastic, or if the bale is lightweight and could fall apart.
  • How: Use a permanent, waterproof marker.
  • Write label information in two places, either on tags enclosed in waterproof envelopes or plastic bags, or on two faces of the bale. Write or place the labels off-center so that if the bale becomes rounded, the information is less likely to rub off.
  • Alternatively, especially if handling a large number of bales, it may be easier to label bales by number or letter corresponding to a full roster of information on a numbered list or spreadsheet.

Lois Levitan, Ph.D., and Nate Leonard, M.S., March 16, 2016