Organizations Resist Dow Chemical and Keep America Beautiful’s “Hefty Energy Bag” Program

October 12, 2017- Over 40 organizations across the country, from major environmental organizations to city agencies to academic institutions have signed a pledge stating that they will not support Dow Chemical and Keep America Beautiful’s “Hefty Energy Bag” program if it comes to their cities.

“Cities have a responsibility to provide citizens with a material discard resource recovery system that preserves human health, and the health of our planet,” Jack Macy, Commercial Zero Waste Senior Coordinator for the San Francisco Department of the Environment states. “A large part of that system needs to focus on phasing out problem materials like non-recyclable plastics. Unfortunately, this proposed program focuses on a disposal method which is at the bottom of the material recovery (“waste”) hierarchy and poses dangers to public health and the environment. As cities we should adopt comprehensive waste reduction and resource recovery management programs that decrease overall waste first and foremost, and recycle and compost everything possible.”

The program, which is currently instated in Omaha, NE, encourages families to collect their “previously non-recycled” plastics — single use items like chip bags, disposable cutlery, and juice pouches — in a special orange Hefty bag for curbside pick-up, to be converted into “valuable energy resources.” These plastics are then sent to be burned in a cement kiln outside of Kansas City, MO that has violated the Clean Air Act. The program has been marketed as  “plastics recycling.”

The program sponsors’ labeling of this program as “recycling” has sparked concern amongst leaders in the recycling industry and recycling advocacy community. “The National Recycling Coalition does not consider the Hefty Energy Bag Program as a recycling program. The ‘energy recovery’ of the bags is not consistent with the definition of recycling and therefore is not a recycling program,” says Robert Gedert, President of the National Recycling Coalition.

Already the program has drawn controversy in Omaha, NE, where local environmental groups have voiced skepticism over the project’s sustainability claims. Missouri Valley Group Sierra Club Vice Chair and Emeritus Professor of Public Health at the U. of Nebraska at Omaha, Dr. David Corbin, states, “The Missouri Valley Group Sierra Club considers the Hefty Energy Bag program to be greenwashing. The solution to the proliferation of plastic is not to create even more and then use it as fuel. It is akin to increasing food production so we can feel good about all the food we waste because it can produce compost.”

The Hefty Energy Bag program is described in GAIA’s new report called “Green businesses and cities at risk: How your waste management plan may be leading you in the wrong direction,” which sheds light on the practice of waste burning under the guise of landfill diversion or energy generation. The report also highlights an EPA loophole that recently made co-incineration of waste in cement kilns and boilers more dangerous, with weaker emission regulations and reporting requirements.

“Cement kilns are major sources of air pollution, with a history of serious Clean Air Act violations across the nation. As a cement industry watchdog for a quarter-century, Downwinders at Risk knows all too well the threat to public health posed by burning wastes and plastics in cement kilns. The only thing recycled are the toxins into our lungs,” said Jim Schermbeck, Director of Dallas-Fort Worth-based Downwinders At Risk. In the U.S., communities of color, low-income communities, and indigenous communities are exposed to a disproportionate amount of air pollution, such as air pollution that can result from waste burning.

This pledge is released as Dow Chemical and Keep America Beautiful consider applications for two new locations in their Hefty Energy Bag program. According to several sources, Dow Chemical plans to expand the program to 50 new sites in the next five years. Dow is one of the nation’s largest plastic companies, and plans to significantly expand its plastic production capacity. Dow recently opened a new plastics plant in the Gulf, which it claims will become the world’s largest facility of its kind.

Contact: Claire Arkin, Campaign and Communications Associate, GAIA, claire@no-burn.org, 510-883-9490 x111