UPDATE: Feb. 12, 2020: The Phoenix City Council will increase solid waste residential rates by $6.40 in an effort to preserve residential recycling, as reported by KJZZ and others. That new rate will be phased in over a two year period, after members voted 7-2 for a new overall rate of $33.20.
In an agenda summary for the meeting, the Phoenix Public Works Department recommended a rate increase over abandoning or altering current curbside services. More than half of Phoenix resident surveyed also preferred that approach. "With these rate changes, all existing services can be maintained, which reflects the preferences expressed through the public feedback process," the department recommended. Phoenix last raised the rate in 2009.
- Phoenix Public Works Department officials say the city will either need to hike monthly solid waste rates from $26.80 per household or begin slashing programs. The department presented four options this week at varying costs: maintain current service; end curbside green organics pickup; end both curbside recycling and green organics; or switch to biweekly recycling collection. Maintaining current services would require a monthly fee hike of $6.40, or $4.75 if Phoenix ditches recycling and green organics programs.
- Rates haven't changed in 10 years and officials are also recommending a 2% annual increase for inflation. According to Public Works, the city would need to make $36.5 million in service cuts if no rate increase is approved. Beyond reducing curbside recycling, that could also entail closing one MRF as well as the city's compost facility.
- Mayor Kate Gallego emphasized at a Tuesday city council meeting, according to KJZZ, that Phoenix does not want the distinction of being the largest U.S. city without recycling. In a statement to Waste Dive, Public Works cautioned against any "premature" focus on cancellations. Director Ginger Spencer said her agency is "recommending a rate change to our City Council because we need to keep up with the costs of doing business today and prepare for the future."
Phoenix has come to serve as a model for circular economy proponents, making any changes significant for other municipalities that have sought to emulate the city. With a goal of 40% solid waste diversion by 2020 through the Reimagine Phoenix initiative, the city has made major strides in its efforts to address recycling and organics diversion.
The decision between service cuts or price increases comes as Phoenix grapples with a turbulent recycling market that has seen revenue decrease by an estimated $5.6 million within the last fiscal year. Around 150,000 residents currently have access to the green organics program, which costs an extra $5 per month. In total, Phoenix has around 400,000 residential customers. The city does not provide solid waste services to either commercial or multi-family buildings.
The potential for facility closures is notable in a city with publicly-owned infrastructure. One of Phoenix's MRFs received funding for upgrades this year. The other, an older facility, may require more extensive upgrades in the future. Both are operated under contract by Republic Services, which did not respond to a request for comment by publishing time. Also in jeopardy is Phoenix's new composting facility, which handles both food and yard waste, run via a contract with WeCare Denali Organics.
Phoenix is the latest of many Arizona cities to face cost issues due to market changes. Neighboring Surprise recently canceled its entire curbside program, the largest city to do so in the United States. In another potential model for Phoenix, Tucson opted to reduce its recycling collection to a biweekly system, saving $1.4 million, in addition to pulling $2 million from a hotel tax to cover rising costs. The city is still debating what to do about glass recycling.
While many cities are working through new recycling costs, Phoenix also has to adjust to its fast-growing population and is now the fifth-largest in the United States. "More people means more solid waste to take care of. By evolving, we renew our commitment to the safety and health of Phoenix residents and protecting the environment," said Spencer.
Public Works may need to boost its education and outreach efforts as the department works to reign in contamination, in addition to potentially investing more in recycling infrastructure. "It’s about re-evaluating the way we operate and re-calibrating it to adapt to these changes," Spencer said.
Before any final decision is made, council members have requested that 10 community meetings be held to gather public input. The earliest the Phoenix City Council is expected to vote on the decision is late January 2020.