DALLAS — What organizers expected to be easy ended up being hard during the first-ever Energy Bag pilot program aimed at collecting plastics that are not typically recycled.
And concerns about collection and sortation ended up being unrealized.
A first-of-its-kind effort last summer to target plastics that typically get thrown away was able to collect 6,000 pounds of material that was then turned into more than 500 gallons of synthetic crude oil through the Energy Bag program.
The program, which featured the use of purple collection bags handed out to residents of Citrus Heights, Calif., for three months, was deemed a success by organizers, including Dow Chemical Co.
Results of the program were released in February, but Dow expanded on the project at the recent Recycling Tech Summit held in Dallas and organized by the Society of the Plastics Industry Inc.
Erica Ocampo, sustainability manager for packaging and specialty plastics for Dow, said results of the program have organizers eager to conduct a larger study to further advance the concept.
“We really didn't know at the beginning what to expect,” Ocampo said at the summit.
But, she added, the pilot program was a success. “We're really excited because at the beginning we were a little bit scared because there was no road map or a script to know how to run a pilot of this magnitude.”
Education, typically a cornerstone to any successful recycling program, ended up being an unexpected challenge for the program.
That's because Citrus Heights is a relatively small city of about 27,000 households near Sacramento. That meant organizers had to rely on mailings and grass roots communications to get the word out about the program.
Conducting the next pilot program in a larger city, with its own television and radio stations and other media, will help get the word out to more people, Ocampo told the audience.
Still, even with the communication challenge, Dow estimated that the participation rate was about 30 percent. A post-pilot survey indicated that 78 percent of the respondents said they would participate if another program took place.
Going into the pilot program, there were concerns about collection and sorting of the Energy Bags and the plastics they contained. But Ocampo said contamination was manageable at 16.5 percent, and workers at Republic Services Inc.'s material recovery facility were easily able to manually remove the purple energy bags from the recycling stream. Any potential concerns about the bags causing problems at the MRF were not realized, Ocampo said.
Those bags were collected and set aside before being sent to Agilyx Corp. in Oregon where the contents were processed into crude oil through pyrolysis.
Along with Dow, Agilyx and Republic Services, the Flexible Packaging Association and Reynolds Consumer Products also were part of the initial pilot program.