Plastic Lumber ?

Hard-to-recycle items transforming into lumber at Omaha facility

Story by Marlo Lundak

OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - Omaha’s First Star Recycling facility has more than a year’s worth of recycled items from around the metro that are now being transformed into something useful.

Plastic lumber processed in Omaha

Plastic lumber processed in Omaha© Provided by Omaha WOWT

Plastics that typically would have gone to the landfill or are harder to recycle than other products are being transformed into lumber.

“Things like chip packets, candy wrappers, foam to-go containers,” says Danielle Easdale, the director of sales and marketing at First Star Recycling.

“We’re making dimensional lumber, 2x4s, 2x6s, 1x4s, 1x6s, it can be made into furniture, it can be made into raised garden beds,” says Dave Heck, the Plastics Operations Manager at First Star. “When we progress we will also be making decking for decks and docks.”

First Star began the Hefty Energy Bag program more than a year ago, and since then, they’ve collected around 350,000 pounds of materials from community members who have been participating.

“First Star wanted to participate in this program because we know that people care about what is going into the landfill and we know that people want to recycle as much as they possibly can,” Easdale adds. “These materials are typically hard to recycle by the traditional process, so we started this program so we could develop ways that we could use these plastics and put them back into useful products.”

The energy bags and their contents will end up on the giant conveyor belt at the facility. An employee will weed out the “bad stuff,” and a giant magnet will collect any metals that snuck through.

The plastics will then go through a grinder and a cleaning process, and will eventually end up as a light, soft and fluffy material.

That’s only about half of the process.

“[Then] we blend it to a certain recipe, we extrude it into a mold, the mold then is cooled and the plastic lumber is pulled out and trimmed to size,” Heck adds.

Officials say Omaha is one of the only, if not the only, facility in the nation that collects and transforms materials under one roof.

The process to actually create the lumber started in late January, and already the facility has created more than 900 pieces of lumber.

Heck says this is just the beginning.

“Our goal is to process 10,000 tons of plastic waste a year in this facility.”

Heck says later, they also hope to create other technology like railroad ties and plastic pellets.

Easdale adds that you can feel good about the products you’re using and recycling with the Hefty program.

“That chip packet that you’re eating today, if you put that in the Energy Bag program and that comes to us at First Star, that could soon be the plastic lumber that makes the park bench that you’re sitting on tomorrow.”

Easdale and Heck note that the Hefty Energy Bag program will soon be re-branded to the Hefty Renew program, as the bags are no longer being burned for energy.

To get involved, all you have to do is purchase the orange energy bags at the grocery store. Once the bag is filled, tie it closed and place it in your recycling bin.

Heck also tells 6 News First Star will eventually have inventory for sale once more is created. They’re still in the process of creating a price list, too.