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Boise's Orange Bag Plastics Could Be Coming To A Construction Project Near You

Frankie Barnhill
Boise State Public Radio

Since 2018, many Boise residents have dutifully filled special orange bags each month with hard-to-recycle plastics. Now, after months of waiting, those bags won’t be going back to Salt Lake-based Renewlogy as expected.

The Hefty Energy Bag Program had worked to send Boise’s plastics to Renewlogy to be converted back into fuel, a process called pyrolysis, but the company was only able to break down the bags for a short time. Its equipment needed upgrades to handle the diversity of plastic waste Boise was contributing.

While Renewlogy paused operations, bags stacked up at collection points in Ada County for months before the City of Boise signed off on an Energy Bag Program plan to ship the bags to Utah to be used as fuel for concrete manufacturing. Bags have been incinerated in that process since late 2019, a carbon-emitting result Boise waste officials have previously said is still better than landfilling the plastics.

The date Renewlogy expected to resume processing Boise’s plastics was a moving target through last year. Now, a Hefty Energy Bag program spokesperson confirms the company is moving its operations to Phoenix and is no longer a partner.

Renewlogy did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

This summer, the energy bag program hopes to pilot re-use of those plastics in Boise with a different company, Los Angeles-based ByFusion. Its website says they use steam and compression to create construction grade plastic bricks, similar in size to cinder blocks used to build walls.

ByFusion’s equipment fits a standard shipping container footprint and is designed to live at waste collection sites.The company did not return calls or emailed requests for comment.

The pilot program in Boise isn’t a sure thing yet, but the potential to re-use the plastics locally excites city Materials Program Manager Peter McCullough.

“I think people connect a little better with seeing a product made out of their materials,” McCullough said. He paraphrased: “You know, I want my waste to become something that is tangible, and that I can see.”

Participation in the program has remained steady, city officials said, averaging about 28 tons each month. When the program began, the orange bags were provided to consumers by the city. Vouchers were available the following year, but recyclers have been on their own to purchase the bags since.

The orange bags can accept many plastics numbered 4-7 which aren’t recyclable in the city’s blue bins. Bags are available for purchase only at select retailers: Target, Albertsons and Boise Co-Op locations. Smaller-sized orange bags are available at Home Depot.

Hefty’s energy bag program runs independent of the city. Boise is only responsible for the costs and process of collecting the bags.

Note: A previous version of this story incorrectly identified the average amount of materials collected in the orange bags each month.