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Boise Forges New Partnership to Turn Plastics into Fuel

Boise is partnering with a Salt Lake City company to turn some hard-to-recycle plastics into diesel. (Sustainable Initiatives Fund Trust/Flickr)
Boise is partnering with a Salt Lake City company to turn some hard-to-recycle plastics into diesel. (Sustainable Initiatives Fund Trust/Flickr)
January 12, 2018

BOISE, Idaho – Boise has found a new destination for some plastics after China announced it will no longer accept certain recyclables.

China has been a major market for western U.S. cities' recycling material, and its announcement has put many in a tough spot. Starting this spring, Boise is partnering with Salt Lake City based Renewlogy to turn certain hard to break down plastics into diesel fuel.

Colin Hickman, communications manager for the City of Boise Public Works, says the goal is to keep these plastics out of the landfill, and adds that China's decision is a wake-up call for how recyclables are processed.

"Another part that's also come from it has just been a realization and a recognition of us sending our materials across the globe,” says Hickman, “and how do we manage our resources more regionally, more locally? And so, the Salt Lake City alternative really appealed to us, because it's taking ownership of the materials that we use here in Boise."

The city has received a $50,000 grant from Dow Chemical to get the program up and running. Hickman hopes Boise's program can serve as a model for other cities.

Priyanka Bakaya founded Renewlogy in 2011 over concerns about the amount of plastics in landfills and the environment.

Plastics can be identified by numbers '1' through '7' on the containers. She says types '1' and '2,' which include most water and soda bottles, are most likely to be recycled.

Renewlogy's technology works on the harder plastics – numbers '3' through '7' – breaking them down into the material they came from, which is oil. Bakaya says it's a clean process.

"We do it in the absence of any oxygen, so it's a completely enclosed system and that's why it's very clean,” she explains. “You're not burning the plastic, you're not creating any dioxins from it. You're just simply putting it in an enclosed environment and breaking it down into its constituents."

Bakaya encourages people to reduce their use of plastics.

Hickman adds the city will also keep looking for ways to cut down on plastic waste.

"How can we find some changes in everyday life?" he asks. "We're not talking about drastic changes, but if there's small things that folks can do so that, by the time we get to recycling, we don't have nearly the amount of materials, that'll be a concerted part of our education and outreach efforts going forward."

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - ID