The Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) has announced it will end exemptions for burning most types of agricultural waste from January 1, 2019.

Whilst a change in Scotland’s environmental regulations in 2013 meant farmers could continue burning plastics only under an exemption, SEPA is moving to reduce the environmental impacts of farm waste.

SEPA has engaged extensively with National Farmers' Union (NFU) Scotland and Zero Waste Scotland to support Scottish farmers through a simple set of online resources, including a list of Scottish recyclers who stand ready to help farmers get plastic waste sorted.

Whilst a change in Scotland’s environmental regulations in 2013 meant farmers could continue burning plastics only under an exemption, the agency is moving to reduce the environmental impacts of farm waste.

The move, which will affect silage wrap, crop covers, fertiliser bags and containers, follows extensive engagement between SEPA and Zero Waste Scotland.

SEPA has also worked closely with NFU Scotland to roll out the change which will feature ongoing dialogue with farmers and crofters over the coming months.

Recycling farm plastic

Ending the exemption will not only align with the legal requirement for all Scottish businesses to present plastics and other items separately for collection but will help boost the Scottish market for recycled plastics.

SEPA’s waste and landfill tax manager, Gary Walker; land unit manager, Stephen Field; and NFU Scotland vice president Martin Kennedy and director of policy Jonathan Hall visited RPC bpi recycled products in Dumfries.

The firm is one of the largest polythene film recyclers in Europe, which will help farmers as they join the global challenge to reduce their plastic usage.

The company has the scope and expertise to recycle up to 120,000t of plastic each year across Europe with plastics, including silage wrap and fertiliser bags, being recycled into refuse sacks and Plaswood lumber, made from 100% recycled plastic.

Plaswood can then be fabricated into products such as boardwalks, fencing, gates and garden furniture.

SEPA, NFU Scotland and Zero Waste Scotland have developed a set of resources for Scottish farmers, including a list of recyclers who stand ready to help farmers get plastic waste sorted.

Speaking at RPC bpi recycled products’ site in Dumfries, SEPA’s Gary Walker, said: "Every day SEPA works to protect and enhance Scotland’s environment and ending the exemption for burning farm plastics is an important next step in stemming the plastic tide by reducing the environmental impacts of farm waste.

From January 1, 2019, farmers will no longer be able to burn plastic and most types of agricultural waste and, whilst many farmers have been recycling this type of waste for years, it is important that all farmers take steps now to ensure they are ready.

"By recycling, farmers are once more doing their bit for the environment, supporting their local community and helping ensure that plastic materials are kept in use for as long as possible by maximising the value that can be extracted from them.

“Working with our partners, a simple set of resources has been developed for Scottish farmers which will help them to get their plastic waste sorted. We will continue to work with farmers over the coming months as we move towards January 1 and SEPA officers are always here to help if farmers have any questions.”

NFU Scotland vice president Martin Kennedy said: "Recognising that the spotlight is focused on plastics, it is incumbent on all stakeholders that we help farmers and crofters do the right thing when dealing with the forthcoming ban on burning farm plastics.

“There is a short window for change but we have been working closely with SEPA and Zero Waste Scotland on clear messages and practical measures that farmers can follow.

"That involves meaningful, simple guidance on what can and can’t be done; what is and what isn’t recyclable, and what the options are for farm plastics deemed non-recyclable.

We also want to ensure the collection centre network is as comprehensive as possible so those in more remote areas have realistic options to have this material disposed of properly in the future.

“Where there are gaps in information, guidance or disposal options, we will work quickly with others to fill them with solutions.”