If you live in Gwinnett, chances are good that you recently received a Hefty® EnergyBag® “starter kit” in your mailbox or saw sponsored posts about the Hefty EnergyBag program in Gwinnett in your social media feeds. Hefty, a brand that sells products such as garbage bags, zip-close plastic bags, and disposable foam, plastic, and paper tableware, recently sought to expand its diversion program for hard-to-recycle plastics to four counties in the metro Atlanta area, including Gwinnett, Fulton, Forsyth, and Cherokee. The Hefty EnergyBag program, which has been in Cobb County since 2018 and is also in Nebraska and Idaho, claims to “make it easy to collect otherwise hard-to-recycle plastics at curbside and convert them into valued resources.” In the starter kit and sponsored posts, Hefty marketed the program as a new feature becoming part of regular curbside recycling. The problem? They seem to not have first obtained consent from county and city governments, waste haulers, and the processors that sort our curbside recyclables. Each of these stakeholders must always approve of new materials becoming part of the municipal recycling stream in order to protect the efficiency and integrity of the recycling system and comply with our community’s existing residential waste service contracts. Despite what any program materials you may have seen might say, the Hefty EnergyBag program is NOT available curbside anywhere in Gwinnett at this time.
Q: How does the Hefty® EnergyBag® program work in Gwinnett?
Residents may purchase the company’s bright orange bags at Kroger grocery stores and fill them up with plastic items marked with a resin identification code (the number inside the recycling symbol) of #4, #5, or #6, as well as plastic packaging without foil lining, plastic bags and wrap, foam, and plastic dinnerware. None of these items are accepted in regular curbside recycling, which only includes flattened cardboard, paper, empty metal cans, and empty plastic bottles and jugs. Residents must buy the special eight-gallon orange bags to participate, which cost approximately $6.49 for a box of 20, or 33 cents per bag.
Q: I’ve filled up an EnergyBag® — now what?
The program is drop-off only in Gwinnett County. Plastic bags or bagged material of ANY kind is not acceptable in the curbside recycling bin, and never has been. To dispose of a Hefty EnergyBag filled with the plastic items noted above, you can bring it to WestRock, located at 384 Maltbie Street in Lawrenceville, starting on Friday, October 15. Drop-off hours are Monday through Saturday from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. Atlanta’s appointment-only Center for Hard to Recycle Materials (CHaRM) is another public drop-off for Hefty EnergyBag material.
Q: What happens to the items in a Hefty® EnergyBag®?
From a drop-off, the Hefty EnergyBag material will ultimately travel to Nexus Fuels, a facility in Atlanta, for processing. Nexus Fuels specializes in a processing method called pyrolysis, which is a technique of heating plastic waste in a contained environment with the absence of oxygen so that there is no combustion (a.k.a. burning). Pyrolysis, or “thermal depolymerization,” breaks down the longer chain polymers into shorter chain materials that can then be further processed into chemical feedstocks or fuel.
Pyrolysis is not the same as traditional recycling and is a controversial approach, with many environmental groups perceiving of it as greenwashing, skeptical of its viability, and particularly opposed to using energy resources to pyrolyze plastic into fuel that will soon be burned. Pyrolysis, and the Hefty EnergyBag program specifically, have experienced high-profile challenges and failures.
Q: What are common myths about the program?
So far, we have heard a variety of myths and misunderstandings: That this program was developed by the county or its haulers, that the Hefty EnergyBag material in metro Atlanta will be incinerated, and that the orange bags can be placed curbside and that if your hauler collects them that means it’s acceptable. These are all false.
Q: What is Gwinnett Recycles’ opinion of the Hefty® EnergyBag® program?
As an independently funded grassroots citizen organization, we pride ourselves on serving as a watchdog for the environment and for the residents of our community who want to do right by it. We are gathering as much information as possible about the program, including reviewing county government open records and scientific research and meeting with Nexus Fuels and other parties involved. We will post updates, including a final recommendation for or against participating in the program, on this page. In the meantime, we urge you to keep your focus on reducing and refusing single-use plastic and other disposable products and packaging. Absolutely no recycling or disposal option (regardless of how seemingly green, technologically advanced, or innovative) is a substitute for — or should distract from — that ultimate eco-friendly action!
About Gwinnett Recycles: Gwinnett Recycles is focused on helping Gwinnett County, the second-largest county in the state of Georgia, reduce, reuse, compost, and recycle more material and keep waste out of landfills and the environment. Gwinnett Recycles is run 100% independently by citizen volunteers. To connect with us and support our efforts, follow us on Facebook and Instagram, subscribe to our newsletter, and consider volunteering with us!