Firstar Fiber, Inc.

Firstar Fiber, Inc.: Products with 85% Postconsumer Resins

The Need: Our program addresses several related problems and needs, but the drivers were:

1)     the prevalence of these otherwise non-recyclable and worthless plastics (i.e., shopping bags, films, straws, multi-layered packaging, snack bags, candy wrappers and a host of other items) showing up in the comingled recycling stream, and

2) recognition that to justify the capital costs to remove these items demands that we capture more of the valuable recyclable plastics (bottles and tubs of PET, HDPE and PP).

Hence, the challenge is to convince “wishful recyclers” to stop adding the worthless items, and yet not foster more “recycling fatigue,” which is expressed in such comments as “recycling is too complicated” and “I hear that plastics are landfilled anyway.” These and similar comments are usually preceded by “I don’t recycle because…”  

The Solution: We are developing a comprehensive approach to make it relatively convenient for both residents and for the MRF to recover far more plastics than ever before, and it is being achieved in a sustainable market-driven manner.

Our program’s first phase began in 2016 when we permanently offered the Hefty® EnergyBag® program. Residents and businesses purchase bags to capture problematic plastics (see the complete list on our website: ( This now captures over 20 tons per month of these plastics from the metro areas of Omaha and Lincoln and from approximately 40 rural communities in western and central Nebraska. Thanks to financial support received from the Alliance to End Plastic Waste, we are moving into phase two to process the bags onsite into produce the feedstock in our plastic pre-processing facility (PPRF) and these pellets will be used to make finished products such as lumber and reusable pallets.    

Which of the Pact’s 4 Targets does your work help achieve?  

TARGET 1: See the list of problematic packaging on our website. Virtually every type of plastic packaging on the market today are candidates for inclusion in our program.

TARGET 2: Our program specifically converts problematic packaging into suitable feedstock that can either be utilized by chemical recycling operations or by mechanical recycling technologies of which we have demonstrated the capability to make desirable products.

TARGET 3: The above-mentioned program’s existing reach in Omaha and Lincoln and over 40 rural outstate Nebraska communities is key example of our ambition actions to achieve this goal. Combined, we have already made it possible for over one half of the entire state’s population to recycle virtually all types of plastic packaging. Our ultimate aim is to expand this program to the entire state, and the means by which we will achieve this goal is addressed in answer to this next question.

TARGET 4: Our PPRF will produce totally recycled feedstock to make a variety of products, many of which would otherwise be made with 100% virgin resins. In fact, the reusable, stackable plastic pallets manufactured in phase two, which are considered to be tertiary packaging, is made exclusively with 85% post-consumer resins recovered from the bag program; the balance consists of selective pre-consumer scrap plastics.  

What makes it particularly smart or circular? One of the chief ways to achieve this goal is through a program we call Project School Board©. Working with the Nebraska Dept. of Education, the Nebraska Community Foundation, the Nebraska Grocery Industry Assn., Goodwill Industries of Omaha, Habitat for Humanity of Omaha and others, we will offer communities of all sizes the means to either start recycling programs or revitalize discontinued or drastically scaled back programs, a result of the China Sword policy. In simple terms, Project School Board© is a pull-through-recycling-program, that is, locally recovered resources flow directly back to the community, thereby generating numerous environmental, social and economic benefits.

The results of two surveys conducted earlier this year, one by the state education department and the other by the Nebraska Community Foundation, provide a clear indication of how meeting local needs can establish circular economic outcomes. The department’s survey found that the vast majority of the state’s high schools do not buy the materials (such as lumber) for their technical career students. The foundation’s survey of some of these same communities’ philanthropic organizations uncovered a host of building projects – e.g., town gazebos, pedestrian bridges, park benches and wheelchair ramps – that they dearly would like to see built.

Firstar will make the lumber using the plastics recovered from these communities and seek donations and grants to provide students to build the “wish list” projects identified by their communities. Project School Board© thus serves an important role as the connection for a very visible demonstration of how otherwise overlooked plastics can build community pride and appreciation for recycling efforts.   

Results, Benefits, and Outcomes to Date: In phase one with the introduction of the Hefty® EnergyBag® program, we learned:

In the development of phase two, i.e., the processing processes leading to the production of plastic lumber, we have learned that residents who otherwise were vocally opposed to the program because the initial outlet was a cement kiln, now fully support the effort.

We have also found that the Project School Board© opened the doors to several crucial partners, and with their support, we expect to achieve participation from rural communities that, as mentioned, have resisted efforts to support community recycling efforts.

How are you communicating your success? Facebook, speaking engagements to neighborhood groups and reliance on the communities that we service to promote the program in their communications.

What’s Next? We will be contacting the Nebraska League of Municipalities and the Nebraska Recycling Council to survey all Nebraska communities to learn about their recycling efforts, followed up with personal visits to explain how they can begin to take a huge bite out of what they are spending to landfill their trash.

We will also be soliciting state funding agencies, brands and members of the Alliance to End Plastic Wastes to support the Project School Board©.

Roadblocks & Lessons Learned: The initial challenge was to convince our existing municipal customers of the program’s longevity. This was expected; one of the major concerns anyone running a recycling program – and that includes us – has in regard to any new add-on to a recycling program are the problems should it fail. Starting programs are relatively easy; shutting them down and dealing with the aftermath can be quite costly, starting with the education to stop the public from throwing the unwanted material in their carts. It was Dow’s commitment to introduce us to other potential outlets, hence ensuring us that there will be outlets for the bags, that convinced us it had the potential to succeed. The more outlets developed, and especially ones such as what we are doing that turn the materials into valuable products that can be used locally, will go a long way to helping this effort expand nationally.   

Core Team, Partners, & Participants: Our core team consists of Dale Gubbels, president of Firstar Fiber, Danielle Easdale, Firstar’s sales and marketing director, and David Heck, plastics processing manager. Our partners include all of the aforementioned organizations, but also the Alliance to End Plastic Waste. The Recycling Partnership and the Closed Loop Partners have also supported various equipment used in our Material Recovery Facility.

Time Frame: We started developing this project in 2015. Completion won’t occur until we have almost 100% of our state on board to recognize the merits of plastic recycling.

Budget: The PPRF and lumber operation combined has been approximately $2M. The AEPW has been the project’s primary financial backer.  

Quote: “Project School Board and all of Firstar’s efforts to increase the recovery of plastics rank as one of the more exciting projects I’ve seen.”- Steve Alexander, president of the Association of Plastic Recyclers.   

Company/Organization Information: 1997; Omaha, NE, Full-Time Staff 109 with the need and expectation to be at 140 by next year.

Login or create an account.

Lost Password

Create your free account.