The Orange Energy Bag
When I started working at RDG Planning and Design I was excited to see their commitment to recycling, composting, and an overall conservation mind frame. The kitchen has several bins lined up for compost, recyclable plastics, non-recyclable plastics, and landfill (or trash as most people call it). We try to sort everything into either compost or recycling bins before we resort to the trash bin. It was fascinating and encouraging to hear an update at this months staff meeting of the enormous amount of waste that has been diverted from the landfill by just our one company. Other companies I have been at have had trash or paper recycling, some added plastics and tin, while Minneapolis went a step further with compost. But none of them tracked their waste to see what impact their efforts were making.
While Minneapolis was a city committed to the environment, I was surprised to see a new type of recycling at the office placed into a bin with an orange bag. The orange plastic bag, or EnergyBag, can be purchased pretty much anywhere in Omaha that you can buy regular trash bags. The point is to fill the bag with all the plastics, styrofoam, and other non-recyclable plastics to then be converted into energy instead of taking up space in the landfill. I have always felt so guilty coming home from the grocery store with dozens of little plastic bags filled with my fresh produce, not to mention the plastic grocery bags I had to resort to when I forgot my reusable bags.
On the Hefty EnergyBag website, they state the program launched in Omaha with just 6,000 households in September 2016, but is now citywide and in Bellevue, Louisville, Ralston, Papillion, and LaVista (all nearby suburbs). As of 2018 they program has collected more than 82,174 bags in the area and diverted 47 tons of plastic, or according to the website, 225 barrels of diesel fuel, from landfills. When you consider just how light plastic is, 47 tons is quite impressive. The great part about this program is the bags are picked up with your regular recycling. No extra truck trips and all users have to do is leave it at the curb with the rest of their garbage and recycling.
The first of these programs started by Dow Chemical Company (parent organization to Hefty) was in Citrus Heights, California back in 2014. The company converted the waste materials into a high-value synthetic crude oil. The goal of the Omaha program was to convert it to a cement product. There was some debate about whether converting the plastic to cement was really recycling and if it was more harmful due to the toxins and pollution that are released with older cement factories. As the author of the article chronicling the debate states, its hard to argue with a program that keeps all this extra plastic out of landfills. Cement factories are going to operate regardless so why not use the energy bag program to fuel it and instead work on regulations and corrective orders to upgrade the cement plants to EPA standards?
Regardless, its nice to see Omaha looking for ways to protect the environment and reduce the amount of waste that ends up in our landfills. It always seems to be the mega cities that get attention for a job well done, but smaller cities throughout the country are doing their part to offset their environmental impact too.