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.

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.  

“Horse shoes can go to scrap metal and add up to a significant income, depending on current metal prices,” Crabbe notes. “We are working on setting up a collection system from all of the barns, farriers, and vet practices in our area to collect horse shoes for a local horse rescue -charity.”  

Don’t toss torn pillow leg wraps, grungy saddle pads, or beyond-repair blankets. Most Goodwills accept any and all textiles for recycling—even the unusable ones, says Crabbe.

Here are other ways to recycle and repurpose barn materials:

Weld a water hose rack out of thrown horse shoes.

  • Turn thrown horse shoes into tasteful hooks, latches, and decorations. Weld them together into a water hose storage rack.
  • Reuse old kitchen and bathroom towels, washcloths, and worn-out T-shirts, saddle pads, and wraps as rags for drying legs, polishing boots, and wiping down stable surfaces.  
  • Save zippered comforter bags for blanket storage.
  • Hand your ripped horse blankets down to your dogs during winter. Bundle them up as beds or transform them into doggie jackets.   
  • Save empty (and clean) condiment and spray bottles to store hoof creams, detanglers, fly spray, etc. Sprayers are especially important to save, so you can replace others that clog or break.
  • Reuse any type of paper feed bag as poultice wraps, a cover for a hoof pack, to desensitize your horse, to soak up spills, or as shredded additions to compost.  
  • Transform cracked buckets, those with missing handles, milk crates, and supplement containers into storage for grooming or wash stalls, jump cups and pins, and more. You can also use small square buckets to help create bases for cavaletti.

Fashion rope and PVC pipes or wooden dowel rods together to make portable blanket racks.

  • Save an old broom handle and some baling twine to create a portable blanket rack. This can also be accomplished with rope and PVC pipes or wooden dowel rods.
  • Use plastic feed bags as weed liners beneath the mulch in your barn landscaping.
  • Use empty coffee cans to store supplements when on the road for an event. It’s easier and lighter than taking a big bucket of supplement with you.  
  • Nail empty tuna or cat food cans to tack room walls as bridle racks.  
  • Wad up old newspapers and use them as boot trees.
  • Use old (completely intact) tires as feed bucket holders in stalls or other feeding areas.
  • If you can get your hands on any large plastic barrels, cut them in half and use them as feeders and water troughs. (Don’t forget to cover the sharp edges first.) Old water tanks can also make great decorative flower beds around the barn or temporary coolers during a barn party.
  • Ask nearby therapeutic riding programs or youth riding camps if they’d take your old or broken tack. Many are happy to make repairs or modifications and put it to good use.
  • If you do any barn repairs or remodeling, see if charitable construction projects, such as Habitat for Humanity, will take your construction waste (old cabinets, doors, window frames, etc.). Or, repurpose it yourself to build picture frames, planters, shelves, and much more.

Make the Switch to Green ­Materials

Besides recycling, simply using more eco-friendly materials around the barn can make your facility much “greener.” Take the light fixtures in your aisleways or tack and feed room, for instance. Switch to fluorescent or LED lighting—these last about nine and 20 times longer, respectively, than traditional bulbs. Or, if building or remodeling, leverage natural light by way of added skylights and windows to save on barn utility costs.

Another building consideration is using bamboo wood. Although more expensive than typical lumber, it’s one of the world’s fastest-growing plants, and growers don’t need to rely on fertilizers or pesticides, says Crabbe. It’s also very tough, making it a good material for barns and fencing. Wood-plastic composite, a blend of recycled wood and plastic film, is another eco-friendly material that Crabbe recommends. This long-lasting woodlike product doesn’t rot or decay or require painting or much upkeep.

Avoid the waste or recycling hassle associated with baled shavings by building a structure to house loose shavings. Crabbe’s practice recently constructed a shavings barn to eliminate the need for bales. “I think it has probably saved a significant chunk of change for us and might even pay for the building over time,” she says.

Pick up used conveyor belting from a local gravel quarry, and use it as an inexpensive substitute for rubber stall mats in stalls, aisleways, wash racks, or grooming areas, suggests Alayne Blickle, director of Horses for Clean Water, an award-winning environmental education program for horse owners and author of’s Smart Horse Keeping blog. Similarly, keep an eye out for free used wooden pallets near industrial areas and warehouses—or even discarded on the side of the road or at the end of a neighbor’s driveway.

“Depending on the condition of the pallets you recover, you may be able to put them to use in all sorts of capacities around a horse property, from walls for compost bins, cute stall doors (for less “testy” beasts, such as dogs or ponies), and fencing,” Blickle says. “Don’t forget to use pallets for storing and stacking things off the ground, such as feed, hay, lime, grass seed, etc.”

And we can’t discuss recycling without mentioning the ultimate recycling method: composting. One horse creates about 50 pounds of manure a day—that amounts to more than eight tons a year!

“Add to that the eight to 10 gallons of urine a horse generates in a day and the wheelbarrow or more of bedding you use, and in no time at all you have a virtual manure mountain,” says Blickle. “Instead of letting all that good stuff become a waste, composting reuses and recycles these natural materials into a beneficial ‘black gold’ that has many benefits when applied to lawns, gardens, and pastures.”

Compost can even be used as bedding. “We are now seeing equestrian facilities with high-quality composting systems taking that finished compost, mixing it 50/50 with clean shavings, and using it as a bedding product,” Blickle adds.

Take-Home Message

Embrace a green barn environment and have fun coming up with ways to reuse and recycle everyday items. Get creative! You might even save money in the long run on materials and utilities.