Among the hundreds of consumer products produced in the United States, the large majority are difficult to recycle. Really only #1 PET or #2 HDPE plastic bottles are economically recycled, meaning that they generate enough commodity value to incentivize their recoverability. These plastics, like juice pouches, merchandise bags, Styrofoam, straws, plastic utensils, candy wrappers and caps/lids, are especially annoying because they oftentimes end up in waterways, or clogging up storm drains. Despite the #NoPlastic movement that started around the time that the Great Pacific Garbage Patch was discovered in the mid-1980s, plastic production doesn’t seem to be slowing. It is a lightweight alternative for packaging and saves CO2 emissions and costs in transportation, so it does have its benefits as well. But, irregardless, most people agree that something needs to be done to capture plastics that aren’t recyclable or reusable.
A few years ago, Dow Chemical Company partnered with Reynolds Consumer Products, to found the Hefty® EnergyBag™ Program. This program allows people to fill a orange colored bag with all their non-recyclable plastics, tie it up, and dispose of it in their curbside recycling container. The Energy Bag then goes on to the MRF with the other recyclable materials, and gets sorted out where it continues on to get processed into synthetic crude oil.
Citrus Heights, CA kicked off a pilot program in 2014 that successfully diverted 6,000 pounds of plastic waste and generated 512 gallons of crude oil (equal to about 12 lbs of plastic to make one gallon). It doesn’t take away from recycling, which still offers greater environmental benefits, but does prevent the hard-to-recycle plastics from ending up in the landfill. As we speak the City of Omaha, NE is rolling out a pilot Energy Bag Program to their residents, and next will follow Boise, ID and Cobb County, GA. Conveniently, this is coming at a time when the Green Sword of China is striking down U.S. post-consumer plastics, and causing some municipalities to landfill their previously valuable recyclables.
For a short video about how the Hefty® EnergyBag™ works, see below.