Boise Co-op to Discontinue Use of Non-Recyclable Water Bottles 

Environmental Analyst Evan Carpenter (right) helped the Co-op Purchasing Coordinator (left) identify which water bottles can be recycled.

Courtesy Boise Co-op

Environmental Analyst Evan Carpenter (right) helped the Co-op Purchasing Coordinator (left) identify which water bottles can be recycled.

The City of Boise was quick off the blocks when the recycling crisis hit this January, partnering with Salt Lake City-based Renewlogy to turn Boise's plastics into biofuel. Yet while the new program sidesteps the environmental waste of sending all local plastics to the landfill, it isn't perfect. Two products that were recyclable in the past, plastic water bottles and plastic clamshell containers, can't be recycled into blue bins or tossed into the city's new orange bags. Boise Co-op Marketing Manager Mo Valko said that was a big problem for her company and its customers.

"We had several customers and several employees ask us if we were going to change any of the packaging that we used in the store in response to [the recycling] changes," said Valko. "... We started looking around and saying, 'What are some things that we could do right away that would help with these changes?' And the water bottles was a good solution for us."

click to enlarge COURTESY BOISE CO-OP
  • Courtesy Boise Co-op
The Co-op reached out to the City of Boise's Public Works Department for guidance on which of the bottles it offered were not recyclable, and pledged to discontinue those products starting Wednesday, Aug. 1. Valko estimates the move—which eliminates five products, including some top-sellers—will keep roughly 32,000 plastic bottles per year out of the landfill.

Colin Hickman, communications manager for the Public Works Department, said a quick "crinkle test" can determine which water bottles are recyclable and which aren't. If a bottle can be easily flattened with a firm hand, it fails the crinkle test and can't be recycled, whereas if it pops back into shape, it can be placed in the blue bin. Plastic lids can be recycled through the orange bag program.

"The reason for that is really a technology issue at the moment," Hickman said. "What happens is those crinkly [bottles] are really light-weight, and they get flattened out in the recycling process, and what happens then is they kind of imitate paper. They look like paper to the sorting machinery, and they get basically sorted in with the paper which makes our recycled paper a lot less valuable."

Evan Carpenter, an environmental analyst for the city, sat down with Co-op employees to talk through the minutiae, and Valko said she plans to invite him back to have the same discussion with other departments in the store. The deli will be the next target for improvement, as it relies heavily on plastic clamshell containers for prepared foods. Even more than improving its own eco-friendliness though, Valko said the Co-op hopes to inspire larger chains to follow its example.

"We have two grocery stores, so in comparison to some of the big players in town, our impact is pretty small," she said. "... If you had a store like Albertsons or Winco get on board the impact would be absolutely enormous."

The City of Boise is ready to help make that happen. Hickman noted that while Public Works has a team of employees working on recycling in general, it has one staff member dedicated specifically to "working with companies and businesses and evaluating their recycling stream, what's coming in, and ways that they can make improvements." 
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