When Don Marthaler drives through rural Dakota County, the retired farmer is used to seeing rows of plastic piled alongside fields. And he knows where much of that heavy-duty wrap used to keep feed and hay fresh ends up.

In smoke.

“Most of it was being burned,” he said, and “It’s a terrible thing to burn.”

Burning it is also illegal in Dakota County. So Marthaler, a member of the county’s Rural Solid Waste Commission, said he suggested the group create a recycling program.

Last month, the commission initiated the first program of its kind in the metro.

The county gave the group a $4,500 grant to put labeled recycling containers at three locations in southern Dakota County, where farmers can dispose of certain plastics for free. The county’s funds also cover the cost of transporting plastic to a recycling facility in Hutchinson, said Renee Burman, the administrative and fiscal agent for the waste commission.

In the past, farmers have had limited options for handling the plastic that covers hay bales and feed.

“It’s too big and bulky to get it in a regular [recycling] bin,” Marthaler said.

And the special plastic used for feed storage bags is not eligible for curbside pickup, Burman said.

It’s illegal to burn or bury trash in Dakota County, so farmers had to pay to dispose of it in landfills in order to comply with the law, she said.

The amount of plastic not being recycled in farm communities quickly adds up. The feed and materials needed for one cow generates 15 to 20 pounds of plastic every year, according to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. A farm with 300 cows is dealing with up to 6,000 pounds of plastic annually.

Farmers are excited about the new program, Burman said. At least the ones who know about it.

The commission is trying to spread the word and get more people to use the three big bins.

“We hope it gets off the ground,” Marthaler said.

The recycling effort is a pilot project. It will only continue until the grant runs out, Burman said, likely in early winter. If there is enough interest in the program the commission will look for more grants, explore partnerships with trade groups and plastic manufacturers and possibly have participants pay a fee.

One of the three large bins, located at a dairy farm in Farmington, is three-quarters full, Burman said. The group is still figuring out which locations work best.

“At the end of the day, we know it needs to be convenient,” Burman said.

For more information about the recycling program, including drop-off locations, go to ruralsolidwastecommission.org/farmers.