Jun 15, 2022 - News

Metro Phoenix recycling changes lead to more landfill waste

Illustration of a recycling symbol repeating pattern.
Illustration: Maura Losch/Axios

Metro Phoenix residents are struggling to navigate changing recycling programs across the Valley, leading to more contamination, less successful recycling and more landfill waste.

Why it matters: For every three pounds of waste in metro Phoenix, one is recycled and two end up in our landfills, according to Arizona State University sustainability professor Rajesh Buch.

Details: Each city in the Valley has its own recycling rules, and they often run counter to each other, causing confusion and improper recycling. For example:

  • Phoenix accepts all types of glass containers.
  • Mesa accepts only glass beverage containers.
  • Gilbert doesn't accept any glass.

What he's saying: "There's a lack of standardization from community to community, which makes it very confusing for us as residents to figure out what goes in the blue bin and what doesn't," Buch said.

Flashback: In 2018, China — the largest purchaser of recyclables from the U.S. — cut back on the types of recyclables it would purchase and heightened the level of contamination it would tolerate, making recycling significantly less profitable.

Those changes led many cities to cut back on recycling services, limit what they accept or hike trash rates for residents.

What's next: Buch is working with students at ASU's Circular Living Lab to find new ways to turn plastics into useful products.

  • Instead of shipping recycled products around the globe to be remanufactured, the Circular Living Lab advocates for "micro-factories" close to home where plastics can be turned into new products to use locally.

Be smart: Use the Recycle Right Wizard to search what items are recyclable in your city.

  • Never recycle clothing, bags, string lights, hoses and cords that can tangle in the machinery.
  • Don't recycle electronics, which can cause fires, damage machinery and harm workers.
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