Guest Opinions

Our solution for hard-to-recycle plastics? More plastics within plastics within plastics?

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.

As a kid, I was worried about pollution, and I did something about it. I collected plastic and trash from the roadside and threw it away. Each week the garbage man emptied our old metal can and took the pollution to be incinerated. That sounded so final, until I learned that burning plastics made air pollution. So, I worried more.

When I grew up and moved to Boise, I celebrated the new technology of recyclable materials. Finally, children who collected trash could sleep easy, knowing that everything can be recycled from home – except glass. To make this convenient, every citizen was issued a pair of 95-gallon, 50-pound plastic sorting bins with large plastic wheels. Our plastic bags got their own spacious home, and every two-weeks the city collected our six ounces of washed and dried hydrocarbons. It was a complete solution to plastic pollution!

[ RELATED: Why recycling in Ada County faces a defining moment, and how it will affect you ]



That is, until we received the recent flyer from our recycling center. Apparently, while No. 1 plastic can be recycled, Nos. 2 through everything else is so toxic that China will not take them (the China that makes the plastic stuff). In response, the city gave us another 50-pound (No. 9) plastic cart for carrot peelings. While I had to pave the garden to store the new container, I’m proud that our No. 1 plastics, and now vegetable skins, are recycled into useful products like organic escarole and No. 2 plastic to individually wrap dog feces – which cannot be composted, but will remain safe for thousands of years. Of course, you can simply opt out of the composting program by paying the $5 a month (lack-of) service fee.

Once again all was well in the City of Trees, until we received another urgent – but helpful – flyer. Among our beloved No. 1 plastics there are some exceptions that cannot be recycled – basically, everything except dairy containers. Apparently, No. 1 is a broad and unfair generalization – there are, in fact, many types of No. 1. We were instructed to carefully wash, dry and sort each No. 1 because of an unforeseen technical issue. It seems that those who designed our state-of-the-art recycling facility purchased the “only sorts dairy containers” equipment. At first, I saw this as a problem. But then I received another solution-oriented mailing from the city: “A new program that complements curbside recycling.”

On a typical workday, about 20 trash trucks pull into a Western Recycling facility in Boise and dump about 190 tons of unsorted recyclables — cardboard, paper, plastics, aluminum and tin — onto a warehouse floor. That’s when things get hopping.

Now children can sleep safe again, because each household will receive a supply of large orange Hefty® EnergyBags™ to fill with plastics (except No. 1), and put into our 98-gallon plastic recycling cart. Ironically, the solution to plastic pollution is sponsored by Dow Chemical. These geniuses developed the plastic Hefty® EnergyBag, (plastics-within-plastics-within-plastics) solution, for our hard-to-place plastics. In this way, the plastics that no one wants (Nos. 2-everything) will go to the happy plastics place in the sky – via an incinerator (after a short drive to Salt Lake City). Oh, the efficiency! And the best part is that the Hefty® EnergyBags™ go right along for the ride – all the way to the sky!

Energy from burning plastics, and energy to make more plastics – recycling at its very best! Well, except for the No. 1’s of the wrong shape that go into the 50-pound plastic “trash” bin, that goes wherever it goes, and always has.

Greg Hampikian is a professor of biology and criminal justice at Boise State University, and director of the Idaho Innocence Project.

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