With laws on the disposal of agricultural plastic waste becoming tighter each year, the Hiddlestons of Solway Recycling, are doing their best to support farmers up and down the country with their unique business.
Located in Dumfries, their business was ahead of its time when it was established in 1992 by Roy Hiddleston and it is currently one of the longest established waste farm plastic recyclers in the world.
“It all started when I was an agricultural contractor. I baled and wrapped lots of bales with black plastic and when I returned to farms the following year to do the same job, farmers would ask if there was anything they could do with the plastic as it was a nuisance,” explained Roy.
“This made me look at trying to solve the problem of waste farm plastic and the way forward, in my opinion, was to try and recycle it in some form.”
Roy initially ran his farm plastic collecting service alongside his agricultural contracting business. However, as time progressed, the plastic collection side of the business grew and in 2000, Solway Recycling was founded.
“My wife, Sharon and I, own the business and it’s operated from our premises at Rigghead Farm, which we have developed and expanded over the years as our business grew. We now employ a workforce of 20 staff,” he said.
Solway Recycling collects all types of waste farm plastic, where farmers are asked to segregate the plastic by type using a bin and liner system.
“We introduced the bin and liner system in 2000 when we saw the need for farmers to segregate the waste and keep it clean. 
"Waste farm plastic is very difficult to recycle, hence the need to keep it as clean as possible,” Roy commented.
“The bin and liner system has proved very successful and we have sold this system to other countries over the years, including New Zealand. 
"Not all farmers have to have a bin – they can just fill the liners without it, with some using old feed bags that they already have on the farm.”
Since launch, Solway Recycling has proved a popular facility and now covers a large part of Scotland, including Argyll and Bute, Campbeltown and Fife, as well as collecting down into Yorkshire and Lancashire. 
“We have collectors in other parts of Scotland and the UK, so every part of the country is covered, provided there is a demand. 
"We also operate hub collections, which are usually based at auction markets, so farmers can drop their plastic off on a selected day for us to collect,” said Roy.
In total, the company collects and recycles 5000 tonnes of agricultural farm waste per year, with 80% being collected straight off the farm and 20% being delivered to their premises by local farmers. 
“We receive a variety of farm waste products, from mineral buckets to silage pit covers, however farmers may not know how to prepare some material for recycling. 
"For example, dairy detergents, pesticide and chemical drums should all be triple rinsed before collection,” Roy pointed out.
“Feed bags should be kept and stored in a separate liner and bale wrap should be kept clean, shaken and put in the storage bin right away, just to make our job and the recycling process a little easier.”
Once the raw material has been collected, the plastic is segregated into its type of polymer, washed and then melted into a profile or a sheet, which is then re-used by the company.
“Although this is not all done in house, we are always improving our processes to do this ourselves. All the recycled plastic we use in the products is all UK based material, but not necessarily all agricultural farm waste,” said Roy.
“We also recycle waste oil but we only facilitate this through a third party, where it gets refined and made into a low grade heating oil, which is used to supply schools and hospitals,” said Roy. 
With the ban of burning waste plastic on farms in January, 2019, farmers have been encouraged further to recycle their waste correctly and Solway Recycling has stepped in to assist.
“There has been a slight increase in farmers looking to recycle their waste farm plastic since last January. 
"However, over the years lots of farmers have gone down the recycling route, even though some of them could get an exemption to burn it,” he commented.
“No material that we collect is sent for burning or incineration, however we do have to send some material, like net wrap, to landfill, which costs us around £130 per tonne. 
"Net wrap is the most difficult thing to be recycled due to the high levels of contamination from straw and grass.
“We are also an accredited exporter and export a very small amount of cleaned raw material into Europe, at times when the UK markets dry up,” Roy added.
With an endless pile of recyclable plastic at their feet, Roy and his team discovered a loophole in the market and have since created a new line of products that have been created from the waste plastic.
“As we were recycling the waste plastic, we thought it would be a good idea to make some products from the recycled material. Most recycled products in the UK are imported from abroad, whereas our recycled products are all made and produced within the UK,” he said.
“We have a workshop specially made for making recycled plastic products, with our most popular product being Stokbord, as it is so versatile and can be used for almost anything.
“As a result, we are able to produce and sell hen houses, pig arks, dog kennels and benches, as well as seasonal items such as lambing pens, adopters, warming boxes and calf pens – the list is endless!” Roy added.
With an abundance of services being made available to farmers, Roy and his team are in the process of introducing a further two new recycling products to their line.
“We are always working on new and improving existing products and, at the moment, we are working on a new calf pen design, which holds two calves and has a divider when they are feeding.
“As well as this, we are in the process of installing a new low-energy recycling plant for bale wrap. Although there is a charge for collection on farm – which varies from £20-£35 per liner – we are looking to tag and grade the plastic off farms and offer a credit system to farmers for their next collection to those who keep their plastic clean enough for this low-energy recycling plant,” said Roy.
With waste recycling proving a hit with the agricultural community, Roy believes that improvements can always be made but more so from the farmers who rely on the service.
“Going forward, farmers can play their part in helping us make as much of our recycling as low-energy as possible by keeping their plastic as clean as possible. By doing so, they’ll reduce their carbon footprint and the cleaner plastic will enable us to keep collection charges down – so that little bit of care taken in those first few seconds has two important benefits for all of us in this chain,” Roy concluded.
Under current Covid-19 circumstances, Solway Recycling is still operating following government guidelines, with on-farm collections continuing as normal, however hub collections at auction markets have been suspended for the time being.