Treated Seed Disposal

Disposal of Excess Pesticide-Treated Seed

Disposal of treated seed is a critical step in the stewardship of seed treatment products and protecting people, animals and the environment. Unwanted treated seed contains pesticides and must be handled according to the pesticide label and the applicable federal, state and local regulations. The best way to deal with the disposal of treated seed is to minimize the amount that needs to be discarded. Do not use treated seed for food, feed or oil production.

pile of treated seed

Before disposing of treated seed, read and follow the pesticide label and the bag (or seed) tag. If you still have questions, contact the pesticide manufacturer. Consult with your state and local authorities to ensure compliance with appropriate regulations.  Find contact information for state and territory pesticide regulatory agencies here.

Small Quantities of Pesticide-Treated Seed

The best way to dispose of a small quantity of leftover seed that has been treated with a pesticide is to plant it in fallow or other non-cropped areas of the farm. If there is an option for storage and future planting, return excess seed to its original container.

Whether or not the seed is being planted in a fallow or non-cropped area or as potential wildlife habitat, it is important to use the same practices and precautions that you would use when planting treated seed to produce a crop:

  1. Use an agronomically acceptable seeding rate, using normal practices for that crop (for example, local planting dates and soil temperatures) as recommended by your county Extension agent.
  2. Plant treated seed at a depth greater than 1 inch (2.5 cm). If the seed is broadcast on the soil surface, incorporate it immediately.
  3. Immediately cover small quantities of treated seed that are spilled during loading and in areas such as row ends, and plant seed away from bodies of water. Collect larger quantities of spilled seed. Treated seed left on the surface can be harmful to wildlife.
  4. Unless restricted by label statements, excess treated seed may be double planted in the turn rows at the end of the field or within a portion of the field.

Large Quantities of Pesticide-Treated Seed

If the quantity of seed for disposal is larger than can be planted or is not suitable for planting (e.g., reduced germination), there are a variety of industries that may be able to dispose of large quantities of treated seed. However, a definitive answer on whether a municipal landfill, power plant, cement kiln, waste management facility or ethanol plant will take seed treated with a particular pesticide can only be obtained by contacting the specific facility.

1. Disposal in an Approved Municipal Landfill

Disposal in approved municipal landfills is permitted in some states. However, landfill disposal is costly and usually not practical for large volumes of treated seed; and permits may be required.

If landfill disposal is the selected option, seed treated with pesticides may be handled as normal solid waste or as hazardous waste, depending on the active ingredient. Check the status of each active ingredient regarding its waste classification status before committing to a disposal process.

The contacts for both solid and hazardous waste disposal programs and environmental agencies in each state may be found on the U.S. EPA website.

2. Use as a Fuel Source for Power Plants or Cement Kilns

There are a variety of power plants that use alternative fuels.  Here is a list of power plants utilizing biomass, municipal solid waste or non-fossil waste as an alternative fuel; these data are extracted from the EPA National Electric Energy Data System v6 database.

3. High Temperature Incineration by a Waste Management Facility

Contact the waste management facility to determine if it can accept treated seed. Note that this is likely to be an expensive option.

4. Fermentation in an Alcohol-Producing Process at an Ethanol Plant

Some ethanol plants may be able to use treated seeds in the fermentation process. Excess treated seed may be used for ethanol production only if (a) by-products (distillers’ grains, mash, etc.) are not used for livestock feed and (b) no measurable residues of pesticide remain in ethanol by-products that are used in agronomic practice. However, some treated seed can inhibit the fermentation process at certain rates and therefore pre-testing on a small scale is critical.

In addition, some ethanol plants may be able to use treated seed as an alternate power source.

Ethanol Producer Magazine publishes the following links to a map and lists of ethanol plants in the US and Canada:

Disposal of Bags that Contained Treated Seed

Used seed bags and containers may contain treated seed dust or a few treated seeds.  Always check state and local regulations prior to disposing of bags that contained treated seed. Some companies may have container return policies.

In the absence of specific regulations:

  • Used treated seed bags may be burned as a fuel for power or industrial heat generation.
  • Used bags may be incinerated either in a permitted hazardous waste incinerator or municipal solid waste incinerator with appropriate air emissions control equipment.
  • Landfills may be used as a last resort and only in a lined landfill with leachate collection and treatment – at a minimum, a Subtitle D municipal solid waste landfill.

Do not recycle used seed bags that contained treated seed.

Disposal of Rinse Water from Seed Treatment & Planting Equipment

Minimize rinse water – wash out equipment only when necessary. Never pour rinse water onto the soil, groundwater, surface water, or septic systems. Re-use rinse water from seed treatment equipment to dilute the next batch of formulation, but only if using the same seed treatment recipe. Factor in the potential for increased concentration of active ingredient, if significant amounts of rinse water are used. Excess rinse water from seed treatment or planting equipment may be applied to a crop or site for which the active ingredient is registered if it will not result in an applied concentration above the labeled rate (from The Guide to Seed Treatment Stewardship).

What NOT to Do with Pesticide-Treated Seed or By-Products

  1. Composting is NEVER recommended for pesticide-treated seed.
  2. Spreading and incorporating (by disking, etc.) at higher-than-normal seeding rates is NEVER recommended for treated seed, even with proper incorporation (soil coverage).  Contact the pesticide manufacturer(s) to determine if spreading and incorporating may be possible under the specific set of circumstances (active ingredients, pesticide and seed rates, previous and future crops, etc.).
  3. NEVER burn pesticide-treated seed in an open pit or in a wood or corn stove used in the home or shop, for any purpose (heating, cooking, etc.)  The hazards and risks from burning pesticide-treated seed in this way are unknown.

For more information: The International Seed Federation has information on how to minimize the production of, and disposal of, excess treated seed. Additionally, the American Seed Trade Association and CropLife America have published “The Guide to Seed Treatment Stewardship,” that features standards, guidelines, a glossary and acronym key, and links to other important sources of information for applicators and farmers.