Hefty EnergyBag Program: Keeping Plastics out of Landfills

When China’s plastic ban went into effect in January of 2018, recycling centers in Boise, Idaho, had no choice but to cut back on the plastics they could accept.

Plastics marked with recycling codes 3 through 7 were no longer accepted in curbside recycling carts — and Boiseans were understandably upset. “Our community is deeply committed to sustainability, so sending these plastics to the landfill was the last option for us,” Boise Mayor Dave Bieter explained in a press release.

Fortunately for Boise residents, the city won a $50,000 grant to establish a local Hefty EnergyBag program in 2017. The program launched in April 2018.

What Is the Hefty EnergyBag Program?

The EnergyBag program allows participating households to place non-recyclable plastics — such as food pouches, plastic utensils, plastic grocery bags, straws, and candy wrappers — into a special orange bag. When full, the orange bag is tied up and placed in the curbside recycling bin. From there, it makes its way to the local recycling facility where it’s presorted, baled, and delivered to an energy recovery facility. The facility converts the plastics into valuable energy sources.

boy placing orange Hefty EnergyBag filled with plastics into recycling bin

The Hefty EnergyBag program helps participating communities avoid sending unrecyclable plastics to landfills. Photo: Hefty EnergyBag Program

In Boise, materials collected for the Hefty EnergyBag program are sent to Renewlogy, a pyrolysis facility that converts plastic waste into a low-sulfur diesel fuel that produces zero toxic emissions. This process keeps plastics out of the landfills. It also reduces the amount of fossil fuel that must be extracted from the ground and keeps resources in use — thereby contributing to a more circular economy.

In an interview with KTVB, Colin Hickman, the communications manager for the City of Boise Public Works Department, reported the program’s success in its first two months. “We’ve collected about 54,000 pounds of non-recyclable plastic. You think about how lightweight plastic is, that’s an amazing amount of material. At its most basic level, that’s 54,000 pounds of material that would’ve been buried in the landfill forever and now is going to be given new life and be beneficially reused.”

Where Is the Program Running?

Besides Boise, the Hefty EnergyBag Program is active in Cobb County, Georgia, and the Omaha area of Nebraska. As with Boise, Cobb County’s plastics make their way to a pyrolysis facility: Nexus Fuels. However, Omaha’s program has been lambasted by critics as harmful to the environment; their plastics end their life cycle by being incinerated, not converted into fuel.

Where Things Are Headed

Although recycling isn’t the best thing we can do for the environment — ideally, we would prevent waste creation in the first place — it’s still preferable to treatment or disposal. Until such as time as single-use plastics are banned, the Hefty EnergyBag program is one step that communities can take to keep plastics out of the landfill or our oceans. As Boise’s mayor puts it, “This is an innovative solution that allows us to turn a bad situation into something quite positive.”

Feature image credit: Hefty EnergyBag Program

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