Tucson May Temporarily Stop Recycling

The city of Tucson is contemplating temporarily stopping its residents’ glass bottles and newspapers recycling due to sharp financial losses in the recycling program.

According to the Arizona Daily Star, officials in Tucson are considering taking the recycling to landfills until the markets recover nationally and globally.

Also in consideration, city officials are weighing whether to scale back recycling collections from weekly to twice monthly. In addition, raising monthly recycling fees charged to homeowners by 30 cents, to 75 cents is a possibility.

In the past 18 months, the markets for glass bottles and newspapers collapsed due to a Chinese crackdown on recyclable imports and continued declines in glass and paper recycling industries in the U.S.

According to the newspaper, Tucson’s expected recycling-program loss for fiscal year 2018-19 is $3.3 million. That estimation is six times what the city’s Environmental Services Department predicted last summer.

In interviews, Mayor Jonathan Rothschild and three council members said they’re not thrilled with any of the proposed solutions.

The council members agreed with Rothschild, “I want to be really cautious and really give it a lot of thought before we jump into anything.” The city needs to deal with the acute economic problems now and look at broader solutions for the long term, the mayor said.

Ultimately, “the city, private companies and the environmental-service industry will have to start looking at a new way of doing business,” he said.

The $3.3 million annual losses clearly aren’t sustainable, said Councilman Steve Kozachik.

At the same time, “We have to keep in mind, the market could shift. Let’s not go ape and kind of drop-kick our whole program like other jurisdictions are doing, then find out in two to three years that if we had been a little more patient, things would resolve,” he said.

City leaders are working to determine alternative solutions, although they are concerned the choices are not great.

“It’s a problem all across the country. Some cities are just throwing paper and glass away,” Councilman Paul Durham said. “I don’t like the choices because people like to recycle. They like to believe that by recycling they are helping the environment.

“The problem is sometimes it doesn’t make sense economically. Sometimes cities pay more to recycle than if they put it in the landfill.”

Samantha Harris, a University of Arizona professor, said she was “really saddened” to learn of the potential for recycling cuts. Her family recycle “as much as we can, anything we can save, that we can clean.”

But she’s also horrified by the large amount of plastics people use.

“We need to get away from that. It would be worthwhile to develop additional technologies to combat that,” said Harris, an associate professor of cellular and molecular medicine.

Mayor Rothschild says some type of multi-recycling collection system, using four separate bins, could work as a long-term solution. Home recyclers would separate items into the four bins to keep one material from contaminating another.

“There will be an initial capital cost to do that. I don’t know, it’s extreme. Maybe you share those in neighborhoods.

“What a couple of cities have gone to,” instead of saying everybody gets a bin, maybe four houses along the block get four bins and they share.

“It’s a good way to help neighbors to get along.”

The cutbacks and higher fees could go into effect in July if the Tucson City Council approves the recent recommendation from a city advisory committee. The council will discuss recycling in detail at the April 23rd meeting.