Plastic Harvest History

Plastic in farm cropSince 1993, we have been working to help farmers and the general public manage their municipal solid wastes, plastic “wastes” rising to the top of the heap. The immensity of the problem came into focus as we talked with growers about plasticulture, or the use of plastics in agriculture. The question nearly every farmer asked was, “What am I supposed to do with my plastic after it has served its useful life?” At the time, farmers were open burning it or burying it. Unfortunately, recyclers of the era held up their red flags because of the perception that all agricultural plastics had pesticides on them. Their red flags also flew high because these same plastics were in fact contaminated with a great deal of dirt.

Our problem solving tendencies were about to kick in.

In 1995, we invented Plastofuel. The concept was simply to densify bulky plastics that no one wanted to recycle, thus making them available as a fuel. (See elsewhere on this site for specifics. Much later (2008), we trademarked the Plastofuel® name.)

From 1995-1997, funded by the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, we conducted a study which lowered the red flag about pesticide residues. (See Additional Information section for a summary of this study.)

In the late 1990s, we worked to get manufacturers to standardize resin types in all types of products, notably nursery containers. We failed in this effort since manufacturers specifically -- and society at large -- were unwilling to pay for cleaning the plastic products to reclaim the resin. Virgin resin was cheap and readily available; economics ruled.

In the early 2000s, the Department of Horticulture’s Center for Plasticulture was formed to help encourage the closed-loop use and recovery of plastics in agriculture.

In 2002, we conducted a study at Penn State’s Energy Institute to burn Plastofuel® with coal. Results were promising. (See Additional Information section for summaries of this study.)

In 2003, we hosted a Korean manufacturer to discuss a new technology his company was trying to commercialize somewhere in the world. His technology was a clever machine designed to burn plastic for heating buildings. See the Korean Combustion Technology section for more details.

In 2010, we developed these Web pages to assist us -- ALL of us -- to reclaim value from plastics. We will be posting program updates in the Status Report section, and will strive to keep them timely.