Recycling on the Farm

Find out how you can set up a farm-friendly recycling system, as well as reuse common materials around the barn.

Posted by Alexandra Beckstett, The Horse Managing Editor | Apr 22, 2019 | ArticleBarns and ShedsHorse Industry NewsWaste & Manure ManagementWelfare and IndustryFavorite


Recycling on the Farm

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reports that the average person generates more than 4 pounds of trash each day, amounting to about 1.5 tons of solid waste per year. It also estimates that 75% of the waste that goes into trash cans is recyclable, but we only recycle about 30% of it.  

Horse owners aren’t exempt from these statistics. Think of how many water bottles you’ve tossed after riding on a hot day or how many plastic shavings bags you’ve stuffed in the trash. Fortunately, it doesn’t take much to make a few eco-friendly changes to your equine lifestyle. In this article we’ll discuss what and how you can recycle and reuse for a greener barn.

Precycling: Think Before You Buy

Precycling might be the latest trendy word in the green community, but it also has an important place on the horse farm. Precycling simply means trying to prevent the need to recycle in the first place. Here are some simple examples:

  • Bring your own cloth bags with you to the feed store to keep from consuming additional plastic shopping bags.
  • Buy fewer disposable items or none (use cloth towels instead of paper ones) to prevent more things from ending up in a landfill.
  • Buy “long life” products (such as rechargeable batteries for clippers and long-lasting light bulbs for the barn). Concentrated products or items bought in bulk (such as equine shampoos, bug sprays, or nutritional supplements) will save money and prevent unnecessary packaging from ending up in a landfill.
  • Choose products with the least amount of packaging or none at all. Items packed in multiple containers might look nice, but are wasteful.
  • For horse camping trips or for your trailer’s living quarters, choose lightweight plastic or metal dinnerware (cups, plates, silverware) versus disposable items.
  • Don’t purchase Styrofoam. It contains polystyrene, a hazardous and difficult material to break down in our landfills.
  • Look for items packaged in cardboard, aluminum, steel, glass, or plastic containers numbered 1 or 2 on the bottom. These containers can be recycled more easily than others.

Buying in bulk is not always practical, and buying disposable items is often a necessity. The key with precycling is to simply limit your consumption of things that will end up in the landfill or recycling bin. It might take a little more forethought, but an ounce of prevention is key!

-Alayne Blickle

Set Up a Recycling System

First things first: Encourage a more recycling-minded atmosphere at your barn, regardless of whether it’s your two-stall personal barn or a large commercial boarding facility. And your efforts will be much more effective if they’re well-thought-out and organized.

“The most important part of setting up a good recycling system is to designate a ‘recycling person in charge’ who is really passionate about saving the world,” says Barbara G. Crabbe, DVM, of Pacific Crest Sporthorse Equine Veterinary Services, in Beavercreek, Oregon. Her practice made the commitment to “go green” in 2009, and she’s since set up an extensive recycling program for the clinic. “For me, reminding my employees constantly about how important it is to our practice is huge. I actually dig through the trash when I see things that could be recycled, hunt down whoever put it in there, and tell them where it should go,” adding that, yes, her colleagues sometimes fondly call her crazy.

“For nonprivate barn owners, this would mean communicating with boarders and trainers about making recycling a priority,” she says.   

Start small, and remember that convenience is key. Most people won’t seek out a recycling bin if a garbage can is nearby, says Crabbe. Place a recycling bin next to every trash can clearly labeled with what should go where.  

“Pick a couple of key items you hope to recycle so it won’t be overwhelming,” she says. Start with easy-to-collect glass, cans, bottles, plastic feed bags, and scrap metal.  

“It can grow from there,” Crabbe adds, “and soon you’ll find yourself asking whether something can be recycled every time you start to toss it in the trash. It is amazing how often the answer is yes.”  

If you live in an area that offers curbside recycling, then the next step is easy. Simply collect all your recyclables in a bin that’s picked up with your weekly garbage service. Otherwise, you might need to haul them to a designated facility. Setting up an organized area with separate bins for different types of items makes the occasional delivery on your way into town easy, says Crabbe.  

What You Can Recycle or Reuse

The list of recyclables goes well beyond soda cans, newspapers, and water bottles. Chances are your barn is overflowing with materials you never even knew you could recycle.

“Common items that can be recycled in a barn? Almost everything!” says Crabbe. “A few surprise items are baling twine, broken plastic apple-picker forks, and almost any old bucket. Any and all wood products (even yard debris) can usually be recycled.”

Your local facility might be able to recycle plastic wrap from baled shavings as well as plastic feed bags. And you can collect scrap metals in a safe, horse-proof place. These include nails, screws, hardware, old wire fencing, and horse shoes.