Industry led solutions needed to solve ag plastics problem in Alberta

By Tim Kalinowski


The agricultural plastics industry in Canada is intent on becoming more green and more sustainable, says Bill Spenceley, owner and president of Flexahopper Plastics based in Lethbridge.

“With issues like ag plastics, I think our industry has to get ahead of that,” states Spenceley bluntly. “A lot of people are aware of these floating gyres of masses of plastics in the oceans, for example— and even though a lot of those are single-use plastics’ products and a lot of that comes from countries that have a lot of flooding, tsunamis and not the best waste disposal— anybody that has plastics attached to their name should be concerned about it.”

Plastics pollution is a provincial problem, a national problem and an international problem facing the agriculture industry, and one which the agricultural industry must lead the way on, agrees Al Kemmere, president of the Rural Municipalities of Alberta and chair of the Ag Plastics Recycling Group (APRG).

“On-the-ground solutions are going to mean a lot more than behind-the-desk solutions on this issue; and that is what this all about,” says Kemmere, referring to the $750,000 three-year pilot project on ag plastics  announced by the Alberta provincial government at the end of January.

The hope, explains Kemmere, is after three years APRG, which is made up of farm groups, retailers, manufacturers of ag plastics and municipal representatives, will be able to present a viable program to the provincial government.

“It does give you a sense of confidence so many have come together to work on this,” says Kemmere, “and in my view it is one of the main reasons for the province getting behind this and supporting the three-year pilot. We did have everybody we can think of at the table. And credit to the province for seeing we need for an Alberta solution, and they are willing to fund a process to drive toward that.”

However, says Flexahopper’s Spenceley, it is also up to agricultural plastics’ companies to lead the way forward to come up with greener and more sustainable technologies which can create a more sustainable footprint for the industry as a whole.

“The climate for innovation has changed a lot,” explains Spenceley. “Instead of fighting things, like the carbon tax for example, we have to look at as an opportunity. We as a company have been green-sourcing and have been trying to do anything we could to be a sustainable leader in our industry.

“To be able to use some agricultural products that are local, and to be able to use in them in finished products; I think that is super-exciting.”

Spenceley is referring to his company’s green-polymers research project to be undertaken with the University of Lethbridge starting later this year. The research will look to see if agricultural products or their organic by-products could be the feedstock for the next wave of sustainable plastics innovation in various industries, including food-processing and agriculture.

“Most of the material we currently use the feedstock is natural gas, but with this (green-polymer) research we can reduce dependency on some of those sources,” states Spenceley. “There is a material called PLA that is a by-product of crops like corn, or corn elements.

“It is actually something we can already process in our process of rotational moulding. There are actually other plastic processes out there that can use even more by-products from more materials to use as a feedstock.”

While the company has evolved from being primarily a leader in agricultural plastics innovation over the past 51 years to being a respected sustainability leader in plastic mouldings research and development, with a global client base in various industries, Spenceley feels consumers expect even more from companies like his going forward.

“This research we are doing isn’t just for Flexahopper,” he says. “On the green-polymer side, that is something that we are developing we are likely going to be licencing. We want to be able share some of those technologies with the rest of the world once we have developed them.”