Dispose of hay bale net wrap properly
The ditches along some roads in southwest Missouri are cluttered this spring with net wrap from round hay bales. The problem is particularly noticeable along rural roads but it is also easily preventable.
The plastic net wrapping used to pack and store hay bales has a good track record for preserving hay quality, but its durability is also its Achilles heel when it comes to disposal.
Recycling or burning are not options but taking responsibility to put them in the trash is according to several area specialists with University of Missouri Extension.
According to Bob Schultheis, a natural resource engineering specialist with MU Extension, the net wrap is generally made from recycled HDPE plastics, like empty milk jugs. The color is determined by the product manufacturer.
"They are made to not be readily biodegradable, because their purpose is to hold the bale together for months or years. Net wrap from round hay bales is one of the most difficult plastics to recycle, due to the hay fibers, soil and rocks intertwined with the plastic," said Schultheis. "Unlike in New Zealand, there is currently no recycling program for agricultural plastics in southwest Missouri."
Net wrap that stays in fields or blows off vehicles into road ditches can become a choking hazard for livestock and wildlife. It can also create breeding grounds for mosquitoes or rodents, and in road ditches it can block the flow of water by being a trap for runoff debris.
"I've never known of a calf choking to death on net wrap," said Eldon Cole, a livestock specialist with MU Extension. "But I have heard of some calves dying from swallowing plastic shopping bags from Walmart that blew in to a farmer's field."
Driving between Shell Knob and Republic on Hwy. 39, Jane Mooneyham, a resident of Republic, counted 37 round hay bale wraps in the ditch. She recognized the hay wraps because their proper disposal is a topic she has discussed with a neighboring farmer in the past.
"I was surprised by the number we saw on this one day, especially when it is something that should be easy to recycle or dispose of," said Mooneyham. "I finally called the Greene County Extension office to find out more. I mean, based on what I was seeing, I was starting to think it is common practice to throw the netting in the bed of a truck and drive off hoping it blows out."
According to Schultheis, the plastic net wrap should not be burned, because of the toxic smoke and particulates that are emitted. Depending on the temperature of the fire, toxic compounds can be released if the wraps are burned.
"Really, in the absence of recycling programs, the best option is to be diligent about collecting the net wrap when it is removed from the bale, keep it securely stowed during transport, and dispose of it through a household trash service, where it will be landfilled," said Schultheis.
Tim Schnakenberg, an agronomy specialist with MU Extension, says greater emphasis will be placed on the need for proper dispose of these wraps during the upcoming hay schools conducted by MU Extension.
"Ultimately, it is an individual responsibility that we need to be encouraging in the farming and hay communities," said Schnakenberg.
"The best option for disposal is one that is already available. Collect and discard of used net wrap with the household trash," said Schultheis. "Even though unwrapping a hay bale in the dark or on cold winter days is nobody's favorite job, the net should be removed entirely and securely stowed in the pickup truck or tractor."