Public-Private Partnerships in Waste Management

 In Environmental Federalism
Photo by Bas Emmen on Unsplash

By Carter Harrison

Abstract

In 2018, China officially removed itself from its role as the world’s “garbage dump” by refusing to buy plastic scrap.1 Since then, much of the western world has scrambled for solutions to the “bales of trash piled up” in their communities.2 Subsequently, as attempts to reduce plastic waste, policies like plastic bans have been enacted.3 In other cases, companies like American Airlines and Circulate Capital are using their resources to reduce plastic pollution domestically or in heavy polluting areas like Southeast Asia.4 Some approaches in the U.S., however, are focused on improving the recycling and collection process. In January 2018, the city of Boise, Idaho announced a public-private partnership with Hefty®EnergyBag™ and Renewlogy to improve that process.5 Initiated by a $50,000 grant from Dow Packaging and Specialty Plastics and Keep America Beautiful, this new program will allow residents of Boise to recycle traditionally “hard to recycle” plastics. Once collected, the plastic waste will go to Renewlogy where it is recycled into clean diesel fuel.6

The Problem

On January 1st, 2018, China official halted nearly all plastic imports.7 Before this announcement, many countries, including the United States, exported their plastic garbage to China instead of recycling it domestically.8 Since 1992, China has imported 106 million metric tons – about 45 percent – of the world’s plastic waste.9 Several countries, like Vietnam and Thailand, have tried to take China’s place by importing waste from developed countries10, although they do not have the infrastructure to support the world’s plastic.11 Many fear how this will affect an already serious pollution problem.

Whether in a landfill or in the ocean, plastic does not degrade like other kinds of waste.12 Some claim, for example, that if the Pilgrims had hypothetically dumped plastic overboard the Mayflower, plastic bits created by the wear-and-tear of waves and sunlight would still be floating around today.13 As plastic production increases – some scientists think that half of the plastic ever produced (approx. 7,800 million tons) has occurred since 200414 – an increasing amount of plastic accumulates in the ocean.15 This plastic ends up in the ocean because only an estimated 9 percent of plastic waste is recycled while 79 percent ends up in landfills or the natural environment.16 In the United States, 25.8 percent of the 262 million tons of plastic waste collected in 2015 was recycled and 52.5 percent was landfilled.17

The planet’s low recycling numbers are, in large part, due to logistics and infrastructure that prevent certain plastics from being recycled.18 For example, there are difficulties recycling thermosetting plastics because the bonds in the chemical compounds are stronger than those of other plastics and do not melt when heated.19 In addition, any food contamination creates difficulties when recycling certain items.20 Consequently, some waste is never recycled.21 This has led many cities and countries to seek creative solutions that focus on increasing recycling possibilities.22

The State’s Experiment

In September 2016, the city of Omaha, Nebraska created a partnership with Hefty® that kickstarted a national program to reduce plastic pollution.23 The premise of this program was to use existing recycling infrastructure to collect “hard-to-recycle” plastics and convert them into valuable energy sources.24 Inspired by the decision in Omaha, the city of Boise, Idaho followed suit.25 Beginning in mid-April 2018, the Boise used a $50,000 grant from Dow and Keep America Beautiful to improve their recycling program to accept hard-to-recycle plastics.26 The agreement also included the revolutionary technology provided by the Salt Lake City company Renewlogy.27

In the first year of the program, each residential recycling customer received a year’s supply of Hefty®EnergyBag™ orange recycling bags.28 This innovative recovery program allowed Boise to collect hard-to-recycle items like food packaging, plastic bags, foam products, and other plastic packaging.29 Instead of going to a landfill, or being shipped overseas, plastic waste is delivered to Renewlogy where it is converted into clean synthetic diesel fuel.30

Renewlogy, the product of Priyanka Bakaya’s MIT class project, uses innovative recycling technology to find value in previously non-recyclable plastic waste by focusing on the chemical makeup of the plastic material.31 The Renewlogy recycling process breaks down plastic by transforming long polymer chains into short polymer chains.32 Simply put, plastic is made of refined fuel, and through a certain process, can be converted back to this fuel.33 Once the process is complete, 70 – 80 percent of the collected plastic is converted into clean synthetic fuel.34 This technology is able to convert 1 ton of plastic waste into roughly 6 barrels of fuel, and hundreds of thousands of pounds of plastic waste have been sent from Boise and processed by Renewlogy over the last year.35

One of the main motivators for following through with this project, as opposed to policies like plastic bans, was that 97 percent of Boise residents participate in the city’s recycling program36, which is approximately 86,261 households from the area.37 The program has met its expectations as the city saw 190 tons of plastic collected for recycling between April and November 2018.38 At this rate, Boise will reduce the plastic accumulation in landfills by half a million pounds annually (250 tons). However, despite this success, Boise is working to expand recycling possibilities to apartment and business complexes to further reduce the city’s plastic pollution contribution.39 This program has been implemented in other communities around the United States as well, including Omaha, Nebraska, Lincoln, Nebraska, and Cobb County, Georgia.40 For example, the Omaha area has expanded the number of participants from 6,000 households in 2016 to homes in 6 additional communities surrounding Omaha 41 – including 40,000 homes in Lincoln, Nebraska.42

Conclusion

This public-private partnership is an example of innovation helping cities more responsibly manage resources. Many people are now aware of the negative effects that plastic pollution has on the environment. Much of the problem is due to limited possibilities of the current recycling infrastructure resulting from decades of outsourcing plastic recycling. The program in Boise offers an innovative solution to the plastic recycling problem by simultaneously keeping plastic out of oceans and landfills and creating a clean energy source.

Notes


  1. “China’s Ban on Trash Imports Shifts Waste Crisis to Southeast Asia,” Nationalgeographic.com, November 16, 2018, https://www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/2018/11/china-ban-plastic-trash-imports-shifts-waste-crisis-southeast-asia-malaysia/.  

  2. IBID 

  3. “A Running List of Action on Plastic Pollution,” Nationalgeographic.com, January 11, 2019, https://www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/2018/07/ocean-plastic-pollution-solutions/.  

  4. “A Running List of Action on Plastic Pollution,” Nationalgeographic.com, January 11, 2019, https://www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/2018/07/ocean-plastic-pollution-solutions/.  

  5. “Boise Announces Plan to Transform Hard-to-Recycle Plastics into Synthetic Diesel Fuel – City of Boise,” https://www.cityofboise.org/news/public-works/2018/january/boise-announces-plan-to-transform-hard-to-recycle-plastics-into-synthetic-diesel-fuel/

  6. IBID; “Hefty® EnergyBag® Program,” Hefty, 2019, https://www.hefty.com/hefty-energybag/hefty-energybag-program; “Renewlogy – Renew Your Waste,” Renewlogy.com, 2018, https://renewlogy.com/.  

  7. “China’s Ban on Trash Imports Shifts Waste Crisis to Southeast Asia,” Nationalgeographic.com, November 16, 2018, https://www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/2018/11/china-ban-plastic-trash-imports-shifts-waste-crisis-southeast-asia-malaysia/

  8. “China Has Refused To Recycle The West’s Plastics. What Now?,” NPR.org, June 28, 2018, https://www.npr.org/sections/goatsandsoda/2018/06/28/623972937/china-has-refused-to-recycle-the-wests-plastics-what-now.  

  9. IBID 

  10. “China’s Ban on Trash Imports Shifts Waste Crisis to Southeast Asia,” Nationalgeographic.com, November 16, 2018, https://www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/2018/11/china-ban-plastic-trash-imports-shifts-waste-crisis-southeast-asia-malaysia/

  11. “China Has Refused To Recycle The West’s Plastics. What Now?,” NPR.org, June 28, 2018, https://www.npr.org/sections/goatsandsoda/2018/06/28/623972937/china-has-refused-to-recycle-the-wests-plastics-what-now

  12. “We Depend On Plastic. Now, We’re Drowning in It.,” Nationalgeographic.com, May 16, 2018, https://www.nationalgeographic.com/magazine/2018/06/plastic-planet-waste-pollution-trash-crisis/.  

  13. “A Running List of Action on Plastic Pollution,” Nationalgeographic.com, January 11, 2019, https://www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/2018/07/ocean-plastic-pollution-solutions/

  14. Ostle, Clare, et al. “The Rise in Ocean Plastics Evidenced from a 60-Year Time Series.” Nature Communications, vol. 10, no. 1, 16 Apr. 2019, www.nature.com/articles/s41467-019-09506-1.pdf, 10.1038/s41467-019-09506-1. Accessed 1 May 2019; Roland Geyer, Jenna R. Jambeck, and Kara Lavender Law, “Production, Use, and Fate of All Plastics Ever Made,” Science Advances 3, no. 7 (July 2017): e1700782, https://doi.org/10.1126/sciadv.1700782.  

  15. “China’s Ban on Trash Imports Shifts Waste Crisis to Southeast Asia,” Nationalgeographic.com, November 16, 2018, https://www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/2018/11/china-ban-plastic-trash-imports-shifts-waste-crisis-southeast-asia-malaysia/

  16. Ostle, Clare, et al. “The Rise in Ocean Plastics Evidenced from a 60-Year Time Series.” Nature Communications, vol. 10, no. 1, 16 Apr. 2019, www.nature.com/articles/s41467-019-09506-1.pdf, 10.1038/s41467-019-09506-1. Accessed 1 May 2019; Roland Geyer, Jenna R. Jambeck, and Kara Lavender Law, “Production, Use, and Fate of All Plastics Ever Made,” Science Advances 3, no. 7 (July 2017): e1700782, https://doi.org/10.1126/sciadv.1700782.  

  17. Edited by DeAnne Toto, “EPA: US Recycling Rate Was Less than 26 Percent in 2015,” Recycling Today (Recycling Today, July 31, 2018), https://www.recyclingtoday.com/article/2015-us-recycling-rate-epa/; US EPA,OLEM,ORCR,RCSD, “National Overview: Facts and Figures on Materials, Wastes and Recycling | US EPA,” US EPA, October 26, 2018, https://www.epa.gov/facts-and-figures-about-materials-waste-and-recycling/national-overview-facts-and-figures-materials.  

  18. “Why Can’t I Recycle All Plastics?,” BBC Guides, 2015, http://www.bbc.co.uk/guides/z9tysg8.  

  19. IBID 

  20. IBID 

  21. “A Running List of Action on Plastic Pollution,” Nationalgeographic.com, January 11, 2019, https://www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/2018/07/ocean-plastic-pollution-solutions/

  22. “A Running List of Action on Plastic Pollution,” Nationalgeographic.com, January 11, 2019, https://www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/2018/07/ocean-plastic-pollution-solutions/.; “Boise Announces Plan to Transform Hard-to-Recycle Plastics into Synthetic Diesel Fuel – City of Boise,” https://www.cityofboise.org/news/public-works/2018/january/boise-announces-plan-to-transform-hard-to-recycle-plastics-into-synthetic-diesel-fuel/

  23. Cole Epley, “Hefty EnergyBag Program Makes a National Model in Omaha; It’s Saved 10 Tons of Materials from Landfills, but Is Controversial among Some,” https://www.omaha.com/money/hefty-energybag-program-makes-a-national-model-in-omaha-it/article_d458da8b-8b04-5ba8-a9dd-042215812786.html, January 17, 2018, https://www.omaha.com/money/hefty-energybag-program-makes-a-national-model-in-omaha-it/article_d458da8b-8b04-5ba8-a9dd-042215812786.html.  

  24. “Hefty® EnergyBag® Program,” https://www.hefty.com/hefty-energybag/hefty-energybag-program. Hefty, 2019 

  25. “City of Boise Rolls Out Important New Recycling Changes – City of Boise,” Cityofboise.org, 2009, https://www.cityofboise.org/news/public-works/2018/january/boise-announces-plan-to-transform-hard-to-recycle-plastics-into-synthetic-diesel-fuel/.  

  26. IBID 

  27. “Boise Announces Plan to Transform Hard-to-Recycle Plastics into Synthetic Diesel Fuel – City of Boise,” https://www.cityofboise.org/news/public-works/2018/january/boise-announces-plan-to-transform-hard-to-recycle-plastics-into-synthetic-diesel-fuel/

  28. “City of Boise Rolls Out Important New Recycling Changes – City of Boise,” https://www.cityofboise.org/news/public-works/2018/january/boise-announces-plan-to-transform-hard-to-recycle-plastics-into-synthetic-diesel-fuel/

  29. “City of Boise Rolls Out Important New Recycling Changes – City of Boise,” https://www.cityofboise.org/news/public-works/2018/january/boise-announces-plan-to-transform-hard-to-recycle-plastics-into-synthetic-diesel-fuel/

  30. IBID 

  31. “Renewlogy – Renew Your Waste,” Renewlogy.com, 2018, https://renewlogy.com/

  32. IBID 

  33. Science X staff, “Study Shows Plastic Waste Can Be Converted into Energy and Fuels,” Phys.org (Phys.org, June 11, 2018), https://phys.org/news/2018-06-plastic-energy-fuels.html.  

  34. “Renewlogy – Renew Your Waste,” Renewlogy.com, 2018, https://renewlogy.com/.  

  35. Interview with an employee from the office of the City of Boise Public Works Environmental Division and interview with Renewlogy.  

  36. “Boise Announces Plan to Transform Hard-to-Recycle Plastics into Synthetic Diesel Fuel – City of Boise,” https://www.cityofboise.org/news/public-works/2018/january/boise-announces-plan-to-transform-hard-to-recycle-plastics-into-synthetic-diesel-fuel/

  37. “QuickFacts: Boise City City, Idaho,” Census Bureau QuickFacts (United States Census Bureau, 2018), https://www.census.gov/quickfacts/boisecitycityidaho.  

  38. Interview with an employee from the office of the City of Boise Public Works Environmental Division.  

  39. “Recycling FAQ – Curbit,” Cityofboise.org, 2019, https://curbit.cityofboise.org/recycling/recycling-faq/.  

  40. “Hefty® EnergyBag® Program,” Hefty, 2019. https://www.hefty.com/hefty-energybag/hefty-energybag-program 

  41. “Omaha, NE Program,” Hefty, 2016, https://www.hefty.com/hefty-energybag/omaha-area-program.  

  42. “Lincoln, NE Program,” Hefty, 2018, https://www.hefty.com/hefty-energybag/lincoln-ne-program