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City of Boise tries out new recycling company, turning Orange Bag plastics into walls

The bench at Manitou Park is designed by ByFusion and is halfway complete. Inside the bench are contents from the resident’s orange bags.

BOISE, Idaho — The city of Boise has partnered with a Los Angeles recycling company, ByFusion, in an attempt to create a zero-emissions recycling process.

ByFusion works with the Hefty Energy Bag Program by collecting all of the plastics inside residents' orange bags and turning them into plastic blocks.

20% of Boise residents are involved in the city’s bag program, but many have wondered where their items go.

"Certain things I have questioned is what happens to the energy bags?" Bill Cowan of Boise said. "Is it just to make people feel good?"

The Hefty Energy Bag Program started in Boise in 2018 in response to China's green sword policy in which they stopped taking many of the country’s recyclable materials. 

Currently, Boise sends all contents inside the orange bags to a company in Salt Lake City, which uses their contents to create cement to replace coal as an energy source. The process does have an environmental impact.

"I just the fact that we are transporting some of this energy bag waste to Salt Lake it just intuitively doesn't make any sense if you think about the 30 tons of this gets transported,” Cowan said.

The city partnered with ByFusion to create a pilot program, testing out the company's recycled blocks. The bench at Manitou Park is designed by ByFusion and is halfway complete. Inside the bench are contents from the resident’s orange bags. According to the company, the bench diverts 1,100 pounds of waste from the landfill.

"To try and find a technology that is truly recycling, that's always our goal,” Peter Mccullough with the City of Boise Public Works Environmental Department said. “People get to look at that block and say wow that could be material from my orange bag that I put in there,” he said.

According to Heidi Kujawa, the founder and CEO of ByFusion, the process of turning the waste into blocks creates zero emissions.

"It's only steam and compression, we don't sort, we don't clean we literally just take the plastic waste throw it in the machine, make a block and stick it in a wall,” Kujawa said. "We really view ourselves as a waste infrastructure company that's able to keep up with the infrastructure demands of the city that includes anything from parks and rec to the department of transportation and other major supporting services for the community."

During the pilot program, the orange bags are sent to ByFusion's headquarters in Los Angeles. Kujawa said the blocks can create perimeter walls, privacy fencing, sound walls, bus stations, dumpster enclosures, storage facilities, and residential projects.

“All of all of our waste in the Treasure Valley, whether it’s from Boise or Garden City or Eagle, it's all is going to the same landfill in Ada county we have one landfill, it's not going to last forever, there are varying estimates about how many years it has left, but were looking in the range of 60 to 75 years left, perhaps even less.,” Mccullough said.

This is why the city is quick to look into a more efficient way to recycle. If the pilot program is successful and piques interest from local architects and developers, ByFusion hopes to bring their block-making machine to Boise, to be able to recycle locally.

The bench in Manitou Park will be completed at the beginning of February.

To learn more about the Hefty Energy Bag Program, click here.

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