SALEM — A South Dakota Department of Agriculture program continues to help farmers reduce waste and the impact on the environment from unused pesticides and the containers in which they are kept.

Spike King, program specialist in charge of pesticide container recycling, was on-site Wednesday morning at the Wilbur-Ellis facility near the intersection of U.S. Highway 81 and Interstate 90 south of Salem assisting producers with the program. He said the program is there to make sure the chemicals and their containers do as little damage to people and the environment as possible.

“Basically, we’re trying to make sure these empty pesticide containers don’t end up in the landfill. We’d much rather see them go back to being used in some product rather than there,” said King. “In years past, some went to the landfill and some were burned on site, which is probably an even worse scenario. You have the carcinogens from the plastic alone, let alone from the herbicide.”

The Department of Agriculture's Pesticide Container Recycling and Waste Pesticide Program has been helping farmers safely dispose of waste pesticides and its containers since 1992, when the South Dakota Legislature enacted laws allowing for the creation of programs to handle such needs. The goals of the programs are to reduce the risks to the environment and human health from the storage of unusable pesticides and to provide an opportunity for pesticide applicators to dispose of containers properly, according to information on the South Dakota Department of Agriculture website.

The program has a number of collection sites scattered throughout the state and makes a point to be accessible to producers during the summer months. They also make stops at cooperatives that may have containers ready for disposal, he said.

“We have 37 sites and we start the second week in July and will end in September out in Rapid City,” King said. “We cover the whole state, and a lot of farmers bring stuff in when we have our collection days. And with some of the larger cooperatives, we’ll actually go around and pick stuff up as they get full.”

King estimated that in the last four or five years, the program has recycled more than 200,000 chemical containers per year, which equates to around 100,000 pounds of ground plastic. He also said the program recycled about 3,000 250-gallon containers last year, which they usually pick up at a different time of year.

The recycled plastic is used to make a number of products, including some that are used in the agricultural industry.

“A lot of the stuff we’re doing now, the company is making pallets out of them for a lot of different uses. For a couple of years, a lot of our plastic went to a company in Wisconsin that makes drain tiles,” King said.

While the response from farmers has been generally good, King said, it’s difficult to know just what percentage of used chemicals and containers the program is able to recycle.

“It’s hard to say. There are an awful lot of pesticides used out here,” King said.

The general farming climate can affect how much work the program is able to do. A difficult growing season, like the one farmers are experiencing this year, can reduce the number of containers brought in, though most years are fairly steady.

“This year has been a little slow. I think some of that may be weather-related, but it hasn’t really gone down the last four or five years,” King said. “This year, we have seen a drop off. Stuff didn’t get planted or get sprayed like it normally would.”

King and a co-worker were assisting farmers with recycling containers five gallons in size or less Wednesday morning and operating a portable plastic grinder and bagger to transport the material from the site. He said the program is easy to be a part of and encouraged farmers to take advantage of the free service if they can.

While King had picked up a handful of chemical drums that were scheduled for disposal Wednesday, the program usually concentrates on larger containers and old chemicals themselves later in the fall, he said. The most important thing to remember about bringing in containers is to make sure they are thoroughly cleaned, he said.

“The biggest thing is to make sure the containers are triple-rinsed and the lids and labels are taken off. It just makes it go so much faster,” King said.

Those considering taking part in the program should know:

  • The program is open to farmers, small businesses, homeowners and others using pesticides.

  • Containers that qualify for recycling are empty and properly rinsed, rigid plastic pesticide and surfactant containers in any size from five gallons to 55 gallons.

  • Eligible pesticide containers must be, at a minimum, triple-rinsed or pressure-rinsed immediately after emptying them.

  • No more that a half-ounce of water may remain in the container and the water must be clear.

  • The program requests, though it is not required, that caps be removed and properly disposed of prior to collection day. They are made of a different type of plastic and cannot be recycled with this program.

The program also disposes of old waste pesticide. Waste pesticide is defined as a pesticide that is unusable if the label uses have been canceled, the product is no longer in a usable condition or the product is unidentifiable and label is missing, so proper use is impossible. Preregistration is required for participation in this program.

More information on disposing waste chemical products and containers can be found at the South Dakota Department of Agriculture website at sdda.sd.gov under the Agricultural Services and Pesticide options.