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Omaha's orange bags of hard-to-recycle plastics now used to make lumber

Posted at 7:18 PM, Mar 27, 2023

OMAHA, Neb. (KMTV) — The orange Hefty EnergyBags full of hard-to-recycle plastics collected by Omaha-area residents are now being used in a different way.

In February, Omaha company Firstar Fiber kicked off its plastic lumber production operation. The company handles recycling for the City of Omaha.

In 2021, 3 News Now reported Firstar Fiber was working with a global nonprofit to create plastic lumber, but in the works to produce it locally, too.

Before the company began holding the orange bags to make lumber, the plastics were sent to the Kansas City area, where they were used to create a fuel used in the production of concrete, plant management told 3 News Now.

Plastic lumber made from the plastics from Hefty EnergyBags from Omaha can already be found in town, Firstar Fiber President Dale Gubbels told 3 News Now. It was used to make benches to the west of what will be the new youth detention facility downtown. The material was produced in Canada and shipped back to Omaha.

Gubbel's patio is made from the plastic lumber. He says it holds up better than that made from trees. He said it's a win-win, diverting plastics from the landfill and combating deforestation with alternative lumber.

So far, more than 800 boards have been created in Omaha.

"This creates a local, circular economy," Gubbels said, "where we can make products locally that are benefiting people locally."

What are Hefty EnergyBags?

Hefty's EnergyBag program operates in a few markets nationwide, including Omaha and Lincoln. The others are in the cities and surrounding areas of Atlanta, Boise, Idaho, and Chattanooga, Tennessee.

The orange bags are sold in some local grocery stores and big box stores, and can be found with trash bags.

The bags can be filled with "hard-to-recycle" plastics. That's usually more fragile plastics like plastic silverware, straws and wrap. Other examples are Styrofoam take-out containers or packaging and bags, and bags of shredded cheese. Hefty's accepted list of materialsis here and can be found on the bags themselves and the boxes they come in, too.

In Omaha and surrounding participating communities, once in the bag, they can be placed with the rest of the recycling. Also participating in the metro: Bellevue, La Vista, Louisville, Papillion and Ralston.

Name change coincides with the switch

The EnergyBag name was chosen in 2014 when the program launched and the bags were only used to make alternative fuels as an energy resource.

But in 2022, more than half of the plastic collected in the program's markets were being used to make new material.

The EnergyBags will become ReNew bags this spring, a representative of Reynolds Consumer Products told 3 News Now. The move comes because of the change in use of and after Hefty research showing people were confused by the original name.

Hefty will also transition to bags with drawstrings, which are not currently on the bags.

What will the plastic lumber be used for?

The first boards being made will be used in a program where kids will help make garden beds.

Gubbels said the lumber is not yet available for purchase.

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