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STARTING TODAY: Tucson will eliminate glass from list of items accepted in curbside recycling program

STARTING TODAY: Tucson will eliminate glass from list of items accepted in curbside recycling program

Editor's note: This story was originally published in November of 2020. Find a list of glass drop-off locations here.

The Tucson City Council voted last week to remove glass from its curbside recycling program, marking the beginning of a communitywide glass reuse plan that will reduce the city’s environmental footprint.

Starting Feb. 1, glass will no longer be accepted in residential and commercial blue bins, but will instead be collected at 22 drop-off sites around the city. Plastic bottles, jugs, paper, cardboard and aluminum cans will continue to be accepted through curbside pickup.

Once collected from the new sites, glass will now be taken to the Los Reales Landfill where it will be processed through an industrial glass crusher, a machine capable of turning glass into dust in seconds. The “glass sand” will then be used locally to fill sandbags or as an aggregate for construction projects.

Reduce, reuse, recycle, that’s the mantra these days! Buzz60’s Maria Mercedes Galuppo has the story.

“What we’re trying to do is get the city closer to the goals that were laid out in the Climate Action Resolution, that essentially calls for carbon neutrality by 2030 and basically zero waste by 2050,” said Carlos De La Torre, the city’s director of environmental and general services. “This program really allows us to move forward in the waste hierarchy.”

The transition from glass recycling to glass reuse represents a 69% drop in greenhouse gas emissions, according to De La Torre.

In addition, the plan will significantly reduce the costs associated with processing more than 5,300 tons of glass collected through the city’s residential curbside recycling program each year. Right now, glass is processed at a material recovery facility and then sent to Phoenix where it is used for sandblasting or to Mexico where it is used by beverage bottlers. In fiscal year 2020, this recycling process cost the city $567,100 — about $107 per ton.

“This isn’t going to be a big moneymaker for the City,” said City Councilman Steve Kozachik, who helped pioneer the city’s switch to glass reuse. “We’re losing money on recycling glass right now, so if we end up breaking even from a financial standpoint, that’d be worth the change. What we will be accomplishing lines up with the climate resiliency plan the mayor is championing — reduce, reuse, recycle.”

The reuse plan will require the city to spend approximately $130,000 on the industrial crusher and about $15,000 on each collection bin.

Kozachik, who represents Ward 6, has been using a small glass crusher for almost a year as part of a pilot program. Residents drop off glass at the Ward 6 office mostly everyday, according to Kozachik. There are also six local businesses that collect glass and deliver it to the office for reuse.

As part of the program’s citywide implementation, the Ward 6 office will now be one of 22 city-owned facilities to have glass-only collection bins where residents and businesses can drop off glass. The city will also partner with recycling customers that are considered “high glass generators,” which might include bars, hotels and event services.

Tucson Mayor Regina Romero acknowledged that the plan was a good step toward achieving the city’s environmental goals, but cautioned that it would take some time to get right.

“I think that we’re going to have to constantly evaluate the data that we receive to ensure that these programs are successful,” Romero said. “One of my concerns is how do we get the community to comply with moving glass from the blue barrel, putting that glass aside and then taking that extra step to take it to a collection site.”

Romero suggested offering some type of incentive for residents who consistently bring in glass and also holding “habitual contaminators” accountable if they continue to put glass in their blue bin.

To help with this concept, De La Torre said they are consulting with a third party organization to complete an audit of the city’s recycling contamination and how they can better educate the community.

The city has already implemented a social media campaign about the new program and has plans to send direct mail to customers by the beginning of January.

The city will also host three virtual town hall meetings that community members can participate in, which will be held Jan. 12 at 5:30 p.m., Jan. 15 at 10 a.m. and Jan. 21 at 6:30 p.m.

Contact reporter Jasmine Demers at jdemers@tucson.com

On Twitter: @JasmineADemers


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