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EPA comes down on mini-bulks

Although reusable mini-bulk pesticide containers save farmers and distributors money in the long run, the industry may spend $5 million recycling and $20 million replacing obsolete containers, according to Martin Fitzpatrick with BASF Crop Protection.

Beginning Aug. 16, a new EPA rule will go into effect that will change the legal use and repackaging of many plastic pesticide mini-bulk containers.  The Pesticide Container and Containment Rule was adopted after the popularity of reusable containers suddenly peaked, and more than 10 percent, some 50,000 tanks, began to stockpile in barns and behind warehouses.

Mini-bulks have an expected lifespan of five to seven years, but then create an exposure risk as the HDPE plastic begins to deteriorate and leakage risks increase.

Now, regional and statewide recycling programs are taking action to safely remove unwanted and non-compliant mini-bulk containers.  One such initiative developed by Iowa State University Extension and partners (see below), makes house calls to shred 85-350 gallon stand-alone or caged pesticide mini-bulk tanks. The cost to dealers and growers is a $15 recycling fee per container.

“The goal is to prevent spillage and minimize hazards for workers, and to eliminate any contamination from waste,” said Ken Root, Recycling Coordinator for Agri-business Association of Iowa.

TRI-Rinse, Inc., a multi-state agriculture container/service company, will recycle unwanted containers on site with a mobile chipping platform, shredding containers into 1,500-pound bags.  The shredded plastic will then be transported to a recycling location, or be used in non-consumer products, such as speed bumps and agricultural drain pipes.

The responsibility to recycle non-compliant containers ultimately lies with the registrant of the pesticide product sold in the mini-bulk.  Refillers have similar responsibilities, such as inspecting, cleaning, labeling, and using a container on the registrant’s description of acceptable containers, according to the EPA.

Not complying may be costly.  Root says that the EPA will issue a several thousand-dollar fine to unlawful mini-bulk containers that are refilled, used or distributed after the August deadline.  It is not illegal, however, to have a mini-bulk container in storage.

Since 1990, Iowa has recycled more than five million pounds of plastic from pesticide containers.  In 2000, a pilot program collected 2,000 unwanted containers, and again last fall, 1,500 were turned in.

Nationally, 2010 recycling efforts, lead by the Ag Container Recycling Council (ACRC), yielded the highest collection of pesticide containers on record.  According to their website, ACRC collects over eight million pounds of HDPE plastic from pesticide containers each year.

However, Root estimates 10,000 containers still left in Iowa alone.  “Recycling is the best alternative for disposal, but it requires cleaning and recycling for approved uses,” Root said.

Make sure your tank is up to code:

  • Container should be up to DOT container design, construction and marking standards (Packing group III)
  • Durably marked with a serial number
  • It should have a one-way valve or tamper-evident device
  • Large tanks need a vent, gauge and shutoff valve compliant with standards
  • Refillable tanks should be on the registrant’s list of acceptable containers

For more information on updated standards for stationary tanks (capacity of 500 gallons or more), regulations for labeling a tank for distribution, repackaging requirements, and properly cleaning a tank for recycling, and to obtain the complete rule, visit EPA’s Container and Containment web page.

Questions regarding the ISU Extension program can be directed to Mark Lohafer, IDALS, at 515-281-8506.

Iowa Recycling Agencies: ISU Pest Management and the Environment Program, Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship, the Agribusiness Association of Iowa and Iowa Institute for Cooperatives with contractor TRI-Rinse, Inc.

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