City Hall

Phoenix Recycling Numbers in the Dumps: Planning Smaller Cans, "Zero Waste" Event

Phoenix recycles garbage at less than half of the national average rate, mostly because of a lack of awareness by residents, a city official says.

To reduce the amount of waste the country's sixth-largest city sends to landfills, officials have planned a diet of smaller trash cans and educational campaigns, including a "Zero-Waste Spring Training Event" in March.

See also: - Peoria Trash Talk: Curbside Recycling Shoved Down Residents' (Trash) Cans Five Years Ago, And It's Worked Out Beautifully

No regular garbage cans will be offered to thousands of people attending the March 13 game between the Arizona Diamondbacks and Seattle Mariners, forcing them to use two kinds of bins -- one for for solid-waste recycling and another for food waste, which will be used for composting.

The event will require a lot of effort to pull off. Besides sponsors including the city of Phoenix, D-Backs, Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community and waste-management company Republic Services, 100 students from Grand Canyon University are expected to volunteer, guiding stadium visitors to the right bins. Ovations Food Services, the concessions provider at the Salt River Fields at Talking Stick, will sell food and drinks in recyclable or biodegradable containers only.

Foil from hot-dog wrappers can be recycled, even grease-soaked, cardboard pizza boxes, says Yvette Roeder, Phoenix's public-works department spokeswoman. "Zero-Waste" isn't completely accurate: Regular garbage cans will be available in the restrooms for diapers and paper-towel waste.

The idea is to get people to think about how much trash is recyclable.

Phoenix has a "diversion rate" of 16 percent, Roeder says, meaning 84 percent of the city's garbage goes into a landfill.

The national rate in 2012 was 34.1 percent. But the city's set an even higher goal: 40 percent by 2020.

Besides educating the public, the city's rolling out the first of 15,000 smaller trash barrels to residents who request them starting on July 1. Now, the city charges about 300,000 households $26.80 per month for a pickup service that includes two 90-gallon barrels, a blue recycling bin and a green one for regular garbage. Choosing a smaller, 60-gallon green barrel will save residents $3.80 a month, bringing their bill down to $23.

Some Valley cities, including Mesa, already offer a similar program.

The city anticipates that all 15,000 of the smaller barrels it's ordered will be used, costing the city $57,000 a month in revenue. But it's not really a bad deal for the city, says John Trujillo, assistant public works direction. The city was planning to replace several thousand of its green barrels anyway, and these smaller bins are cheaper, he says.

Better yet, the 60-gallon garbage barrels might achieve the city's goal of getting more people to use their recycling barrels.

"The more we recycle, the more revenue we generate, and the less expenses we generate when we send garbage to the landfill," Trujillo says.

Residents are under-utilizing their blue bins now, the city believes. Trujillo noted a 10-year-old study showing that 20-25 percent of stuff Phoenicians put in their green barrels actually could have been recycled.

The smaller-can plan will be available to the first 15,000 people who ask for it. An online sign-up form may be available as soon as April.

A couple of rules, though: The city wants these first-adopters to commit to having the can for at least one year, so the city isn't wasting money switching cans out all of the time for people who can't make up their minds. Small-canners also aren't allowed to over-stuff their new barrel, or start putting more non-recyclables in their blue bins -- and garbage collectors will be keeping their eyes on the situation.

Last year, the city began another program to cut down on landfill-bound garbage that gave some residents tan barrels for yard waste and horse manure.

Got a tip? Send it to: Ray Stern.

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Ray Stern has worked as a newspaper reporter in Arizona for more than two decades. He's won numerous awards for his reporting, including the Arizona Press Club's Don Bolles Award for Investigative Journalism.