Waste Diversion Program
Trash generation is a basic way of life since the beginning of time. Take one moment to imagine what trash our ancestors generated, fruit and vegetable peelings, wood, leaves, fecal matter or animal carcasses. Now take a minute to evaluate what you dispose as trash today, broken toys, clothing, electronics, appliances, hazardous waste, green waste or food. According to Tammemagi (1999), we are a wasteful society, we do not mean to but this is unavoidable. Although residential recycling collection costs more than landfilling in the City of Peoria, efforts to maximize recycling should be taken by city officials and residents because environmental benefits from recycling outweigh disposal costs.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), (n.d.), in the year 2018, Americans generated 292.4 million tons of municipal solid waste (MSW), which equates to 4.9 pounds of trash generated per person per day, that is an increase of approximately 23.7 million tons of MSW from the year 2017 or 4.5 pounds per person per day. This shows that as a wasteful society or a society of convenience the generation of trash will continue to increase. Not all MSW generated in the United States is landfilled. A sustainable alternative to landfilling is recycling.
In 2018 of the 292.4 million tons of MSW generated, only 94 million tons were captured through a sustainable alternative. A total of 69 million tons were recycled and 25 million tons were composted, (EPA, n.d.). The City of Peoria (the city), Arizona provides automated curbside recycling and trash service for a fee to households within city limits. In 2018, the city was servicing 57,994 households, they received one day automated collection for a 90-gallon trash container and one day automated collection for a 90-gallon recycle container. The total tons of MSW generated in 2018 were 74,500 tons; the average household generated approximately 1.28 tons of waste each year and only .28 tons of recyclables. The city landfilled 57,919 and diverted, through recycling, 16,581 tons the diversion rate was 22.26%.
In the year 1976, the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) became the primary law governing the disposal of solid waste in the United States, this was enacted, by Congress, to address the increasing problems from generation of MSW and industrial waste, (EPA, n.d.). The RCRA defines that States are responsible for regulating landfills within each State. According to EPA, (n.d.) in 2009, there were approximately 1,908 landfills in the United States of those, forty landfills are located in the state of Arizona. The Arizona Department of Environmental Quality (ADEQ) monitors and regulates all landfills within the State. The thought of living close to a landfill is of concern of people, others ignore the issue of landfills "Out of sight, out of mind" no one wants a landfill in their city. Unfortunetly, it is a reality of life that until we find alternative sustainable ways to handle MSW landfills are essential reality for the disposal of the high amount of waste generated by Americans. MSW delivered to the landfills is buried; there the waste starts the decomposition processes. Decomposition occurs when organic materials breakdown, but there are consequences of decomposition, (Tammemagi, 1999).
Landfill waste is covered by a thin layer of dirt or other covers to alleviate problems such as uncontrolled fires, windblown refuse and rodents, (Tammemagi, 1999). After the RCRA enactment, State have been active in the oversight of landfills to minimize the negative impact to human health, however this does not mean that environmental damage is eliminated. Prior to the enactment of RCRA, 94% of all land disposal operation from the 1960's were failing in terms of air and water pollution, insect and rodent problems, (Tammemagi, 1999). Even though, landfill oversight and regulations have made progress in mitigating these problems, the past has left its footprint on our planet, in particular in the release of methane gas and creation of acid leachate. The release of methane gas and the ground seeping of leachate from landfills has occurred for years, exploring alternative and sustainable waste management programs is essential for future generations. Methane gas is a potent greenhouse gas that traps heat in the atmosphere and make the planet warmer (EPA, 2020) and is released from MSW during the decomposition process. Leachate is formed when water filters through waste in landfills, when the waste makes contact with the liquid it leaches chemicals in the waste (EPA, 2020). Since the enactment of RCRA, States apply composite liners to protect groundwater and require the capture of methane gas from landfills.
The City of Peoria is located twenty miles northwest of the City of Phoenix, as of the 2022 U.S Census there was an estimated population of 197,866 people, and 70,471 households. The city does not own a landfill or Material Recovery Facility. It negotiates for disposal of waste and recyclable material processing from private and public entities. Currently the city has landfill contracts with two entities, Waste Management (a private company) and the City of Glendale. In 2018, the city expended $1.3 million in landfill disposal fees, that amount increased to $1.67 million in 2022. The average disposal cost in 2018 was $24; the cost increased to $25 in 2022 and has continued to increase to $30 in 2023. The assumption is that landfill disposal cost will only continue on an upward trend, along with increased tonnage generation.
The city has a competitive contract for the processing of recyclables at two locations, the City of Phoenix, North Gateway Material Recovery Facility and the Waste Management (a private company) Material Recovery Facility. Prior to 2018, the city was generating an average of $300 thousand in revenues from the sale of recyclable material from the City of Phoenix. This changed in 2018 when China stopped accepting recyclable material from the United States. Since the early 80's China has been a major importer recyclable material from the United States, the City of Phoenix, whom was Peoria's processor, sent their materials to China. In 2017, China advised U.S. recyclers that the material been sent to them was very dirty (contaminated) and that the U.S. had to do a better job cleaning up recyclables. The United States was not successful in attaining a higher grade of recyclables so in 2018 China closed its doors to all recyclable imports. This change resulted in unexpected loss of revenues for municipalities; Material Recovery Facilities were forced to pass on the processing fee cost to municipalities. In 2018, Peoria's recycling revenues dropped to $44 thousand, in 2022, recycling revenues were something of the past, the city was paying in excess of $300 thousand to process the recyclables.
After China closed its doors to the import of recyclable materials from the United States, some municipalities such as the City of Surprise cancelled recycling programs while others such as the City of Mesa modified their acceptable list of recyclables. This set back the progress that municipalities had attained in increasing the amount of trash diverted through recycling. With limited outlets for selling recyclable material, the cost to process recyclables increased significantly for Material Recovery Facilities (MRF). According to Mouw (2020), Arizona municipalities quickly went from generating revenues to paying $64 - $100 per ton for (MRF) processing fees. Peoria's 2023 average cost per ton is $57.98, this is the cost to process recyclables, note that it cost more to recycle than to landfill waste in the City of Peoria. After subtracting the 2023 landfill disposal rate of $30.17, we can arrive to the conclusion that it cost the city $27.81 to process recyclables.
Even though it cost more to recycle than landfilling in the Peoria the environmental benefits include, reducing the amount of waste sent to landfills, conservation of natural resources, prevention of pollution and reduction of greenhouse gases, (EPA, n.d.). In 2018, Peoria landfilled 57,919 tons and recycled 16,581 tons, according to the WARM model from EPA (2020), the GHG generated (increased) from landfilling was 17,909.94 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent or MTCO2E and the benefits of GHG avoidance from recycling was 47,310.27 avoided MTCO2E. The greenhouse gases avoidance are worthwhile the recycling processing fee costs. According to EPA, (n.d.) when products are made from recycled materials it reduces the need of virgin materials, carbon sequestration, and the release of greenhouse gases
The EPA set a diversion goal for municipalities within the United States of 35%, this means that cities are asked to put in place program that will divert 35% of what residents generate to a sustainable/recovery alternative. As of 2023, EPA is considering updating the diversion rate to 50% on a voluntary basis. In Arizona, some municipalities such as the City of Phoenix have taken an aggressive proactive measure and set their diversion goal at Zero Waste. The City of Peoria has fallen short of achieving the EPAs recycling diversion goal, in 2018 the diversion rate was 22.26% and that has dropped in 2022 to 21%.
One thing that was learned from China's stringent requirements was that indeed the recyclables collected at the curbside were contaminated with trash. As other municipalities did, City of Peoria launched education and enforcement campaigns to "clean up" the recyclables. With the many different types of packaging materials resident may become confused about what is recyclable and what is trash. Education campaigns help reduce confusion, and can increase the amount of material that residents place in the recycle can. Municipalities can also explore incentive programs such as "pay-as-you-throw, the more trash you throw the more a household pays for refuse/recycling services. Pay-as-you-throw programs are appealing to the resident as the program gives control of what they will be paying for solid waste services to the resident.
Municipalities can also take aggressive steps in efforts to clean up recyclables by implementing mandatory recycling participation or enforcement. In Arizona, mandatory participation would require new legislation, which takes time and political allies. Enforcement can be accomplished at the local level, by having staff inspect containers before they are serviced. Containers found to have contamination can receive educational materials that will help resident learn how to recycle right. Implement mandatory participation programs and enforcement can deter participation, as resident can become "scared" of being cited or incurring additional fees.
The recycling world has been on a roller coaster since 2017, municipalities have gone from generating revenues from the sale of recyclables to paying recycling processing fees. They have seen the China exportation doors closed, to striving to find purchasers for recyclable materials. We have all seen or heard of damage to our planet from the melting of glaciers and polar caps to extreme temperatures, all the effects of human actions. According to Tammemagi, (1999), society needs a new approach to waste disposal based on the fundamental principles of, protecting health and environment, minimizing the burden on future generations and the conservation of natural resources. When waste is landfilled instead of recycling the environment and the quality of life of future generations are the most impacted. Although residential recycling collection costs more than landfilling in the City of Peoria, efforts to maximize recycling should be taken by city officials and residents because environmental benefits from recycling outweigh disposal costs.