Queen Creek recyclables valuable because of low contamination

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Some Arizona municipalities are stopping recycling services because of the prohibitive cost of cleaning contaminated contents --- such as from food residue or garbage --- or restricting what can be put in residential bins because of reduced revenue.

Not so with Queen Creek, whose residents are careful when they recycle, a town official said.

Curbside collection contamination is 8% in Queen Creek compared to the national average of 20% to 25%, Troy White, public works director, said to the Town Council at a recent discussion on recycling.

The lower percentage in Queen Creek is from the town’s education and outreach programs, such as “Do More Blue” on carts and pamphlets; and regular audits of what is being sent to be recycled, he said.

“And, we have to give some of the credit to our residents too, right? Because they’re actually participating with us to make it an award-winning program,” Mr. White said.

Neighborhood drop-off containers, which are wrapped with the educational information on recycling, have only a 1% contamination, he said.

Requests for proposals

The town is conducting a request for proposals for trash and recycling services from three vendors.

The town’s current contract with RAD will expire June 30, 2020.

Queen Creek residents presently receive once-per-week, same-day curbside collection of solid waste and recyclable material --- from two separate carts; and once-per-month scheduled bulk collection of up to six cubic yards. Solid waste and recyclable material are collected three days per week by the current contractor.

“From all of the vendors that have submitted proposals for our program, we’re not seeing any changes in our recycling program. As long as we can keep our contamination rate ... (low), our recyclables have value --- they still have value --- and they’re still being used and we still have people willing to take it,” he said.

“So we’re not looking at any changes here in Queen Creek. At most, there may be an item or two that just loses its value completely in the market that we might not decide to recycle anymore. But other than that, we’re really looking at just continuing the same and not having a rate increase as a result of the recycling program,” Mr. White said.

The council will consider trash and recycling options Feb. 5 at a closed-door executive session, a town official said.

“Our process --- our timeline right now --- is we’ll be bringing some options to you in an executive session Feb. 5 and then we hope to have a selected vendor with a contract for your consideration on March 18,” Ramona Simpson, the town’s environmental programs manager, said.

“I look forward to seeing how the contract plays out. I am very surprised that the figures of how good our community is doing on the contamination. I thought we’d be like everybody else,” Mayor Gail Barney said

“But, again, Queen Creek is unique and different and we can see that it is paying for us financially by being unique and different,” he said.

The state of recycling

Recycling is converting materials into new materials, Mr. White said at the Jan. 15 council meeting.

“What happens is these reusable materials --- recyclable materials --- are always in competition with other raw new materials for manufacturers and their feedstock that they need,” he said. “Recyclables are a commodity; they’re sold in a combination of domestic and international markets; and China has historically been the largest international market for processed recycling.”

The value is constantly fluctuating, he said.

“What we’re seeing though is a sustained period of a downward trend and that’s kind of due to a combination of factors,” he said.

China banned 24 material types on Dec. 31, 2017, largely because of the contamination of materials.

“Because of the contamination, they stopped taking it and it had a ripple effect in our market,” Mr. White said.

Costs to recycling centers to remove contamination range from $60 to $90 per ton to process the trash, he said.

“For them to get rid of the contamination costs more than then the value you brought in to them in recycling. That’s why a lot of cities are starting to get out of this because they can’t control [the] contamination rate,” Mr. White said,

Current commodity values; and composition by weight in Queen Creek, are:

  • Plastic bottles, $250 a ton; 4.27%
  • Plastic jugs, $795; 1.7%
  • Plastic Nos. 3-7, $40; 3.85%
  • Mixed paper, $10; 20.51%
  • Cardboard, $35; 33.67%
  • Aluminum cans, $1,100; 1.28%
  • Steel cans, $100; 2.56%

“If you’ll notice that paper and cardboard make up about 50% of our recycling material and these are the two that have had the biggest plunge in the market. They’re usually a lot higher than that and these are the two that took the biggest hit recently. So when that’s 50% of what you’re recycling, that really kind of hits your bottom line,” Mr. White said.

Arizona municipalities are tackling the reduced revenues and need for reducing contaminated recycling in various ways, he said.

Casa Grande suspended its recycling program, Chandler discontinued drop-off sites, Phoenix is considering changes due to increased recycling costs, Mesa is accepting fewer material types and Surprise in August temporarily suspended its recycling program, Mr. White said.

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