Boise & Garden City

Boise’s revamped recycling program will start this month. Here’s how it affects you.

Confused about Boise’s new recycling program? The City of Boise is here to clarify.

Beginning in mid-April, Boise will phase in a program to send unrecyclable plastics in orange bags to Salt Lake City, where Renewlogy will turn them into diesel. Plastic water bottles and clamshell containers will be trash.
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Beginning in mid-April, Boise will phase in a program to send unrecyclable plastics in orange bags to Salt Lake City, where Renewlogy will turn them into diesel. Plastic water bottles and clamshell containers will be trash.

In about two weeks, homes across Boise will start receiving orange plastic bags that represent the newest phase in the city’s recycling program. Eagle residents will get them too. So will some Garden City and Meridian residents.

The bags will be for plastic items that aren’t recyclable, either in the United States or internationally. It will take the city about five weeks to distribute all of them, Public Works spokesman Colin Hickman said.

The city wants residents to throw nonrecyclable plastics — clean and dry — into the bags and, once they’re full, tie them closed and set them inside their blue recycling bins at the curb on their regular recycling pickup days. Workers at a sorting plant in Boise will separate the bags from the recycling stream. The bags will then be trucked to a plant in Salt Lake City that will turn the plastics into diesel fuel.

Along with the orange bags, residents will receive detailed instructions on which items are recyclable and which are trash. They’re also receiving flyers with instructions in their city utility bills.

Check out those details right below this story.

“There are no changes to paper, cardboard or metal recycling,” the city said in a news release. “Customers can continue to recycle these items in their blue carts as usual.”

The problem with the plastics

Traditionally, Boise and its contractors accepted low-value plastics like plastic water bottles and with high-value ones such as milk jugs with the rest of recyclable materials. For the past two decades or so, low-value plastics have been sent to China to be recycled. In January, China banned the import of those plastics, forcing Boise and other cities across the western United States to change their recycling programs.

Boise reached an agreement with Renewlogy, the company that operates the Salt Lake City plant.

Eagle will join the orange bag program, said Rachele Klein, spokeswoman for Republic Services, the company that collects trash and recycling at the curb throughout the Treasure Valley.

Garden City is allowing residents to sign up for it, Mayor John Evans said.

Meridian will allow up to 1,500 volunteering households to participate, said Andrea Pogue, a deputy city attorney and solid-waste advisory commissioner.

The more clean and dry the plastics in the orange bags, the more efficient Renewlogy’s process, Hickman said.

“We know that not everything can be spotless, but we just ask that residents do their best,” he said.

Flimsy plastics, such as thin water bottles and clamshell-style food containers, originally were to be accepted as part of the orange bag program. That changed after Renewlogy determined that the oxygen content in those items would make the fuel-conversion process too inefficient.

‘A really tough call’

Heavy-duty water bottles, such as individual bottles sold in convenience stores, are recyclable, Hickman said. But city leaders didn’t want to add to residents’ confusion by saying some water bottles are OK and others aren’t. So they chose to instruct people to throw all water bottles in the trash.

“That was obviously a really tough call, because one of the end goals is to keep as much out of the landfill as possible,” Hickman said.

The city hopes to allow water bottles, clamshells and other thin plastics back into the regular recycling stream someday, he said. While the plastics won’t work for Renewlogy’s diesel-making, they could still be recycled if a post-China market emerges. No such market exists today.

Also, Western’s sorting plant in Boise lacks the equipment needed to separate thin and clamshell plastics from the rest of the materials. Because they’re so flimsy, they get smashed down and mixed in with paper, making it less valuable. Cutting-edge sorting machines could automatically isolate the thin plastics so they could be recycled, Hickman said.

What goes where

Here are the plastic items Boiseans should throw in the trash:

▪ All plastic water bottles, no matter what number is stamped in the triangular recycling symbol.

▪ All hinged-lid plastic “clamshell” containers for to-go food, fruit and vegetables

▪ All wax-coated containers: to-go cups, frozen dinner trays, dairy containers, juice cartons

Here’s what goes straight into the blue recycling cart, loose and unbagged:

▪ Plastics: Only soda bottles, juice bottles, detergent jugs, milk jugs

▪ Metal: Aluminum and steel cans, foil

▪ Paper: Magazines, newspaper, office paper, mail

▪ Cardboard: flattened boxes

Here’s what to put, clean and dry, into the orange bags:

▪ All plastic bags for bread, chips, snacks, fruits, vegetables, salads, pet food, pet treats, groceries

▪ Plastic tubs and lids for dairy items such as yogurt, butter and sour cream

▪ Squeezable plastic juice pouches

▪ Plastic single-serving snack packages for pudding, etc.

▪ Plastic dinnerware: Straws, utensils, cups, plates, etc.

▪ Foam products: egg cartons, cups, plates, bowls, meat trays

▪ Packaging: plastic food wrap, meat and cheese packaging, candy wrappers, food storage bags, plastic bottle caps

▪ Packing and shipping materials: plastic bubble wrap, air packs and pillows, shrink wrap, plastic envelopes

▪ Bathroom items: empty toothpaste tubes, empty deodorant sticks, plastic tubes for lotions and creams

Open houses

To educate residents about the new changes, the city has scheduled open houses in April and May at libraries across Boise.

April 7 | Library! at Collister, 1-3 p.m.

April 10 | Downtown Main Library, 6-7:30 p.m.

April 12 | Library! at Cole & Ustick, 7:30-9 p.m.

April 14 | Library at Bown Crossing, 1-3 p.m.

May 8 | Library! at Cole & Ustick, 6-7:30 p.m.

May 10 | Library! at Hillcrest, 6-7:30 p.m.

May 12 | Library! at Bown Crossing, 1-3 p.m.

May 19 | Library! at Collister, 1-3 p.m.

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