Organizers behind a program to capture difficult-to-recycle plastics expect the work now being done in the Heartland eventually will spread throughout the country.
The Hefty Energy Bag program, launched last fall in the Omaha, Neb., area, already has increased local participation. And plans are to eventually expand the program around the country, said Han Zhang, sustainability and advocacy manager at the packaging & specialty plastics unit of Dow Chemical Co.
The program is collecting about 550 to 650 Energy Bags each week, and has collected 6,300 bags so far, Zhang recently said.
Much of the plastics being collected do not weigh much — think chip bags, candy bar wrappers and juice pouches, for example — so the total weight collected was at 6,300 pounds when he spoke.
Some 6,000 customers of Recyclebank, a recycling rewards program in the Omaha area, initially joined the program last fall. Another 2,500 homes in five neighborhoods in the city have since been added, Zhang said.
“The program is running very well and we're also expanding the program,” he said. “The program itself, we started to receive good-quality material. We have conducted three audits. We see very little contamination in those Energy Bags, and most of the items collected are exactly what we want put in those Energy Bags,” he said.
Consumers put their hard-to-recycle plastics into special orange colored bags made by Hefty before placing them in their recycling containers. Those bags are segregated after collection and diverted away from more traditional recyclables such as PET and high density polyethylene containers.
The program targets a variety of plastics not typically recycled, including flexible packaging, meat and cheese packaging, expanded polystyrene food packaging and cups, other plastic cups, plates and cutlery, cereal and cake mix liners, straws and stirrers, for example.
Materials currently collected in the Omaha area are sent to a cement kiln to provide alternative fuel, keeping the material out of landfills or the environment.