Casa Grande City Council members were obviously reluctant as they asked questions about a change they no doubt knew they had to make. The discussion at a study session Monday evening was about a staff recommendation to suspend the decades-old curbside recycling program. For many years residents have dutifully put recyclable items into their blue bins and hauled them out to the curb on their designated day of the week, at least 24% of them have been, according to a recent city estimate. Now the program will stop because the city has no viable market for the cardboard, newspaper, plastic and tin cans.
The change is likely to become official with passage of the new city budget later this month. What the council members knew is that items collected since last year are merely sitting in bales at the city landfill. They will now be dumped into the pile and covered over with the rest of residents’ trash. The city is compiling information about places where some types of items can be taken by residents in the future if they wish.
Casa Grande is not alone in this problem. Sierra Vista’s program also is ending July 1, and it is not the only city with no market. The big change is that China has stopped taking shiploads of materials, blaming contamination from junk that officials there do not want. This may be yet another example of China’s huge influence having a negative effect on markets. The challenge now is to create an American market for recyclable items.
What the council faced was raising fees to residents so that vendors could be paid to take the items, which would be hauled out of town at city expense. And there is no guarantee that those items would not be taken to another landfill. The city long had felt it was saving significant landfill space, but a recent study said recycling wasn’t really helping to a large degree.
City officials have pledged to continue monitoring the potential for a program and perhaps turning it over to a private entity. The key will be creation of a market in Arizona that would reuse materials.
The issue did not leave council members with smiles on Monday, showing once again that serving on the council is not all fun. The members seemed to have some feelings that come with living through our growing reliance on throw-away items. Plastic water bottles are convenient, but they really produce a lot of waste. Countless students and children have been taught the importance of recycling.
In the meantime, residents can look to the city’s future information about where to recycle some things on their own and hope for the day when such a good program returns. And try to avoid wasting resources when possible.