Phoenix considers cutting recycling program
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Phoenix considers cutting recycling program

The city cites high cost as the main reason for considering dropping the program.

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November 15, 2019

The Phoenix City Council is discussing scaling back or canceling its residential recycling program. The city presently provides collection services to about 400,000 residential customers, collecting and processing more than 1.1 million tons of waste and recyclables annually at two city-owned transfer stations and a material recovery facility (MRF). The city also owns and operates a landfill in Buckeye, Arizona.

In a recent city council meeting, government officials said the city has seen steady growth in its population, which has put a strain on the collection program. For the past 10 years, Phoenix has set its monthly residential solid waste rate at $26.80 per month, per household, while the transfer station disposal fee also has remained unchanged throughout the past 10 years at $38.25 per ton.

However, the city's solid waste management program has been under significant economic pressure. Inflation has averaged 2.5 percent each year, while the solid waste utility is experiencing rising fleet maintenance costs and vehicle breakdowns resulting from an aging fleet, as it has been unable to adequately fund replacement trucks. Adding to the difficult financial situation Phoenix is confronted with, recycling-related revenue has declined significantly, from $8.9 million in 2017-2018 to $3.3 million this fiscal year, the city says. 

To address the higher costs and declining revenue for the recyclables, Phoenix established a Solid Waste Rate Advisory Committee to review revenues, expenses and the utility rate forecast process and make recommendations regarding solid waste rates. May 1, with the concurrence of the Solid Waste Rate Advisory Committee, city council authorized the Public Works Department to enter into a contract with NewGen Strategies and Solutions, Richardson, Texas, to conduct a comprehensive solid waste cost of service and rate design study, including a cost of service and rate design study, benchmarking analysis and recycling market analysis. The report includes recommendations to address the city's primary solid waste user fee mechanisms and was presented to the Solid Waste Rate Advisory Committee in October.

The committee approved recommending four solid waste rate options for consideration by the council. Each option includes recommended capital and operating program reductions and efficiencies. The rate options include additional revenue by increasing the disposal fee for customers at the transfer stations and landfill, amending current recycle agreements and implementing a new commercial hauler permit program.

Revenue from the new commercial hauler permit program is designed to cover a portion of the costs associated with providing citywide code enforcement and community cleanup events.

Maintaining the current rate would require $36.5 million in service cuts, which include every-other-week recycling, the elimination of bulk trash and household hazardous waste collection events, closing the compost facility and one of the city's recycling facilities, removal of eco stations and the elimination of about 135 staff positions.

Each proposed option, presented below, also includes a recommendation to add 2 percent inflation to the rate each year to align with annual inflation impacts:

  • maintain current service levels and increase the solid waste residential rate to $33.20, an increase of $6.40 per month; 
  • suspend the city's compost program by eliminating curbside green organics collection and terminating operations of the compost facility for all customers, increasing the residential solid waste rate by $5.65 per month to $32.45; 
  • adjust the collection frequency of recyclables to every other week, which more closely aligns with service demand, reducing the staff and equipment required for collections, emissions and miles traveled and maintaining full access to recycling and composting for all participating customers (An approved variance plan from Arizona with concurrence from Maricopa County is required to implement this change, which would increase the residential solid waste rate by $5.50 per month to $32.30.); or
  • suspend the city's recycling program and its compost program by eliminating curbside green organics collection and terminating operations of the compost facility for all customers. All refuse will be collected as trash and sent to the landfill for disposal. This option would increase the residential solid waste rate by $4.75 per month to $31.55.