More Idaho cities join Boise for specialty mixed plastics recovery
- Early results from the Hefty EnergyBag program in Boise, Idaho have begun coming in as the city finishes distributing its first wave of special orange bags. As of June 5, more than 29,000 bags have been collected with 40,011 pounds of material. This includes traditional curbside mixed plastics and other plastic packaging.
- Boise has also finalized memorandums of understanding with neighboring Garden City and Eagle for them to purchase orange bags directly from the city. Nearby Meridian is discussing a similar agreement.
All of these bags will go to the same local MRF, Western Recycling, for separation and transport to Renewlogy in Salt Lake City, Utah. From there, the material is converted into fuel products via a thermal depolymerization process.
Funding for the first two years of this Idaho program comes from a $50,000 grant by Dow Packaging and Specialty Plastics and Keep America Beautiful. Boise staff were aware of the China import situation when they submitted the application last September, but effects were becoming far more serious when funding was announced in January. Having an option that wasn't vulnerable to trade restrictions suddenly became even more appealing.
“I think people appreciate a local solution or a regional solution," Catherine Chertudi, environmental programs manager at Boise Public Works, told Waste Dive in an interview. “The fact that this is in our regional backyard is a big deal."
This has required another major educational push after launching curbside composting last year, but Chertudi said "the community is really engaged and has embraced this program" as well. If fully utilized, it will let residents recycle even more material than before. So far, the average bag has weighed 1.4 pounds in biweekly collections and Boise estimates that could later reach 2 pounds.
Results of the program are also being tracked with waste audits at the Western MRF and it has been estimated this could capture at least 10% of the overall plastic stream. Aside from hopefully pulling low-value #3-7s out, Western is especially curious to see if this can help its plastic bag problem.
"The hope is that if people do it properly we’ll have fewer picks on plastic film. We’ll be pulling off one orange bag as opposed to 100 grocery bags," General Manager Rick Gillihan told Waste Dive.
According to Renewlogy CEO Priyanka Bakaya, plastics comprise a large portion of the residual stream for MRFs her company works with and this is one of the only ways to capture value from that material. This program also taps into a growing desire among local residents to see their items recycled rather than disposed. Some have even tried mailing her their household plastics recently.
“People are really upset about the fact that their plastic is going to landfill now instead of a recycling bin," Bakaya told Waste Dive. "I think it’s a great way of just empowering the residents to be able to take the problem into their own hands."
Dow is hoping to spread that sentiment elsewhere and recently extended the application deadlines for its next round of Hefty EnergyBag grants through June 29.
As for critiques from environmental groups that say this all just perpetuates single-use plastic consumption, Bakaya feels the reality is more nuanced.
"It's not so simple. There are definitely necessary applications for plastic where plastic is the most sustainable alternative available," she said. "The challenge is can we actually recycle these plastics into new plastics."
Looking beyond Idaho and Utah, Renewlogy is betting that it can. A new facility is under construction in Nova Scotia and more are planned throughout North America in the coming years.
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