Those familiar recycling bins are going to spend more time in your yard than on the curb starting this summer, as the Tucson City Council looks to cut costs related to its recycling program.
The Tucson City Council directed staff to move to an every other week recycling schedule, following in the footsteps of dozens of other cities and towns across the nation who have either cut back on recycling services or eliminated them entirely.
A spike in the cost of the city’s recycling program forced the council to review the entire operation as the international market for recyclables largely collapsed after China stopped accepting a number of plastic and paper products.
Reducing the frequency of recycling collection will save the city $1.4 million a year, and the city will also take $2 million from the hotel bed surcharge to cover increased recycling processing costs. Residents, however, will continue to pay the same amount for recycling services.
The decision, made during a Tuesday afternoon council meeting, is a stop-gap measure, to be in place for roughly a year as city officials consider other changes to the program.
Those include pushing the public to not put contaminated recyclable products like grease-stained pizza boxes into the blue bins, changing routes and eliminating recycling of certain products — mostly likely glass and paper products.
Glass, which is not exported to China, has always been difficult and expensive for the city to recycle.
The council is split on what to do about glass, although some hinted that a decision might have to be made in the coming months.
“Recycling glass never makes money, we are subsidizing it all the time,” Councilman Paul Cunningham said Tuesday.
The point may be moot to some extent.
The city’s environmental services director, Carlos De La Torre, said he doesn’t know what Republic Services, which runs the city of Tucson-owned recycling center, ultimately does with the glass it collects.
Some council members wondered aloud whether it was already ending up in landfills.
Cunningham said he was conflicted about what to do about glass.
“It is a really hard decision. I believe in recycling everything,” Cunningham said.
For Councilman Steve Kozachik, the future of glass recycling must be discussed in the larger context of what it costs the city, raising the specter of possible rate increases.
“If there is no market for it and it is costing us money and we are balancing your budget versus rates — which we also haven’t wanted to talk about — then it saves us a half-a-million dollars a year to stop taking glass,” Kozachik said.
Kozachik said residents shouldn’t be the only ones picking up the tab for increased recycling costs. He argues the city should consider increasing fees for commercial haulers who utilize the city-run landfill.
Cunningham said the decision to reduce service isn’t a big deal, saying the city has to tweak the recycling program regularly.
“Every five years, it needs a high colonic, you just kind of check it out,” Cunningham said.
Mayor Jonathan Rothschild said he believes the decision to cut recycling pickups to twice a month would have little impact for residents.
“I think we’ve got pretty good information now that the bins generally take a couple of weeks to fill up, it is not going to be a real reduction in service,” Rothschild said.
A memo from the City Manager’s Office suggests that a majority of recycling bins are roughly a third to half-full when they are emptied.
Contact reporter Joe Ferguson at firstname.lastname@example.org or 573-4197.