FORT LAUDERDALE, FLA. — There's the blue bag for traditional recyclables and the red bag for medical waste and the black bag for regular old trash.
Now comes the purple bag, officially known as the Energy Bag.
And it's aimed squarely at multi-material pouches and other plastics that typically aren't recycled.
A pilot project just starting in Citrus Heights, Calif., will help determine if there can be viable diversion away from landfills for these pouches and other plastics by using the purple bag.
Pouches, thanks to their multiple layers of different plastics and even aluminum foil, are difficult to recycle.
Capturing these multi-material pouches for recycling, said Flexible Packaging Association President Marla Donahue, is “very challenging with today's technology.”
“Because it's such a small percentage of the waste stream, 1.6 percent, it is very difficult to get the attention of the waste management community. It's just a little blip on their radar screen,” she said at the recent Global Pouch Forum in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
The Energy Bag is out to change that through a program co-sponsored by Dow Chemical Co., trash hauler and recycler Republic Services Inc., Citrus Heights, and the Flexible Packaging Association.
A total of 27,000 households in Citrus Heights are being asked to separate their flexible packaging and hard-to-recycle plastics and place them in special purple bags distributed in the community. Those bags are to be tied and placed in with the regular recyclables to allow for easy removal once they hit Republic Services' materials recovery facility.
“Plastics are a valuable resource and through Energy Recovery we can recover the embedded energy content. As the world's largest provider of plastics to the packaging industry, we have a vital interest in making these materials beneficial throughout their life cycle,” said Jeff Wooster, global sustainability leader for Dow, in an email interview.
“There is no reason to continue to send plastics items that cannot be mechanically recycled to the landfill when we can recover them for energy,” he said.
The three-month pilot project, which runs through August, will see the specially captured plastics shipped off to Agilyx Corp. in Beaverton, Ore., where the material will be turned into synthetic fuel oil through a process called pyrolysis.
Multi-layer pouches gain plenty of attention for a lack of recycling, but the Energy Bag project also aims to divert items including candy wrappers, pet food bags, frozen food bags and the outer plastic wrapping for water bottle and soda packages. Items such as plastic dinnerware, plates and cups also are on the list of accepted items.
The purple Energy Bags will be collected biweekly and then sent in bulk to Agilyx.
“For us, the pilot is already a success. Collaboration is key to building a sustainable future and this is exactly what has happened here,” Wooster said in the email. “And this is just a starting point. We are learning valuable lessons with our partners that we will be able to apply in other communities.”