A proposed bill would allow farmers in North Carolina to burn their plastic waste without an air pollution permit. Farmers rely on plastic for lot of purposes, from mulching to irrigation systems, and they're struggling with how to dispose of it.

Agricultural plastic isn't exactly easy to recycle. All of the items must be free of dirt and debris and hauling it to a landfill can be costly.

Mark Tucker, director of Cooperative Extension Service in Forsyth County, says biodegradable plastics have been used by the industry in the past. But they have their limitations because these materials don't break down right away and can end up in people's yards and waterways. He says farmers would have to make some tough choices, if they decide to burn their waste.

“I think in an urban area like ours there probably would be an even greater concern. You've got neighbors closer, so the potential for smoke and whatnot is always more of a limiting factor in urban areas than the rural area,” says Tucker.

Environmental groups agree. Some of them who oppose the legislation say they're worried about toxic air pollutants and potential health problems from the burning process.

The bill has passed the Senate and has been referred to the House Agriculture Committee.

According to the North Carolina Agricultural Recycling Plastics Program, in the last three years, farmers have recycled a total of 1,800 tons of plastics.

Follow Keri Brown on Twitter @kerib_news

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