Recycling for area residents has become more complicated than simply throwing materials into the bin and rolling it curbside with little thought.
With recent sanctions on recyclable materials and ever-changing rules and regulations on what can be reused and sold to manufacturers, cities in the West Valley have had to change their own procedures and spend more time educating the public.
Materials are taken from the homes of recyclers, brought to a material recovery facility, or MRF, then sorted by conveyor belt. Workers sift through the potentially recyclable materials and dispose of contaminated items or otherwise non-acceptable. The non-recyclables are transported to landfills with other solid waste from regular garbage pickup, while the recyclables are baled and transported to manufacturers.
In years past, recyclables were transported out of the country in large portions, especially to China. However, the Chinese have made drastic changes to their collection of items like newspaper. Recently, the country stopped allowing many recyclables due to contamination of materials, as they want the items to be nearly perfectly clean.
“We became so used to throwing everything in the recycle bin it just started having too many contaminants, so now China has made these changes it’s changed everything on our end,” said Goodyear Solid Waste Superintendent Adam Kurtz.
Phoenix, which has not changed its $26.80 monthly rate in several years, will need to make changes to deal with new costs and demands, according to a recent city council report. The city is looking at options from maintaining current service except raising rates or eliminating recycling.
The city of Surprise suspended its recycling program in August, moving all materials that would have once been recycled to landfill due to rising costs.
Glendale is also considering changes to its recycling program, which costs the city $1 million per year.
Other cities are looking for new buyers.
“Contamination was overlooked for many years because China overlooked it,” said Peoria Public Works Director Kevin Burke.
And, while there are no scheduled changes, the cities in the area are looking at potentially making them.
“There’s not a lot of facilities coming to the table to make our domestic market more aggressive, to bring more recyclables here in the states. All the places we once had outlets, are closing their ports to us, so we’ll have to see what happens,” said Ruiz.
“It may get to a point where we have to bring our concerns to the city, and then we’ll have some choices to make about costs or what services can be provided.”
At the MRF, the materials are sorted by machines by material type, alongside workers sifting through the items. Kurtz said often people organize their recyclables in plastic bags. However, those often get stuck in the machines and cause delays or functional issues.
Kurtz called bagged recyclables the “number one problem” for Goodyear recycling.
“People mean well by bagging their recyclables. The problem with this is when it’s picked up it’s causing issues with conveyor belts. Nine times out of ten if they see it bagged, they’ll end up throwing it out instead,” Kurtz said.
Fees and what is accepted for recycling varies widely around the West Valley.
Monthly charges and policies, from city websites:
Glendale - $21.80
Accepts aluminum cans, cardboard, cartons, chipboard, mixed paper, newspaper, steel/tin and plastic containers carrying recycling symbols 1 and 2. No glass.
Avondale - $20
Accepts aluminum/metal, aerosol cans, cardboard, paper, chipboard, glass bottles or jars with no lids/caps and plastic.
Buckeye - $21.44
Accepts bottles (plastic and glass), aluminum/metal cans, paper and cardboard.
Goodyear - $22.80
Accepts paper, glass bottles and jars without lids, plastic 1-7, steel/tin, aluminum, cardboard and paperboard.
Peoria - $15.29
Accepts cardboard, paper, aluminum and tin cans and jars, glass bottles and jars and plastic bottles with caps screwed on.
Tolleson - $15
Accepts paper, cardboard, plastics 1-6, aluminum cans, steel/tin and glass bottles/jars.
Burke urged recyclers to follow the rules as closely as possible.
“We want people to keep it simple, don’t get creative,” he said.
Recycling in the West Valley is not completely restricted to the curbside pickup cities provide, either. There are other options for second, third, or further uses of the materials people want to rid from their homes.
Glendale Field Operations Director Michelle Woytenko encouraged residents to look into secondhand stores like Goodwill, Salvation Army or others and to figure out other creative ways to make use of resources that would not be acceptable in the city’s MRF.
“If you’ve got furniture, you’ve got clothing that’s still got some use to it, look at those nonprofits, look at those ways you can recycle as well, just not in our program,” Woytenko said.
Each city has its own recycling policy for residential pickup, and the local governments have pages on their respective websites listing the “do’s and don’ts” of local recycling.
And, while the officials hope their residents are aware of the rules affecting them, several understand they need to make an improved effort in making themselves and recycling rules more accessible.
“As we continue to grow, education is going to be key to continue to ensure residents understand the program. When they’re moving here, we want to make it so they’re getting the right information, and then when they have questions, making it easier for them to find it,” said Kurtz.
“Most homeowners have good intentions and want to do things correctly,” Burke said. “So the more education we can give people, the better they are going to be with it, and the better productivity we can have.”