Paul's Note - November 20, 2020

Today, I’m talking trash. 

Maybe not trash so much, but talk about a smarter way to handle one particular material that ends up in our recycling bins: glass. 

Most of you have done your part and put glass in your recycling bin for years. For a long time, the city was able to sell glass and other recyclables. Over the last few years, those markets have dried up. Currently, the city ships its glass to a firm in Phoenix and another in Mexicali, Baja California. 

That has a cost, largely because glass is so heavy to ship compared to how much money we can get for it.  In fiscal year 2020, we spent $567,000, a bit more than $100 per ton of glass. Aside from the value of keeping glass out of our landfill, there doesn’t seem to be much sense in continuing this. Even the environmental benefits of taking glass out of the waste stream are demolished by how much is being contributed to pollution by trucking it hundreds of miles. 

One way to solve this problem is to look for ways that glass can be used locally. We discussed this at Tuesday’s council meeting. 

What is being discussed is not a recycling program but a re-use program. In recycling, a product is broken down and reconstituted into a new product. For example, a recycled aluminum can would be melted down and recast into something else made out of aluminum. Recycling is an energy intensive process. 

Re-use, on the other hand, takes the already manufactured product and puts it to a new use. It is not as energy intensive as recycling. This has actually been something we’ve done for centuries. That old cookie tin now holds sewing supplies. The coffee can now holds nails. 

The plan presented to us by the Department of Environmental Services would involve crushing glass (some energy use, but not as much as recycling) and using the resulting material for things like aggregate in construction projects, bed material for new water lines and fill for sandbags. 

Although the city would not be selling the material, we will be saving money by not having to purchase it. Also, there is a savings in environmental impact. ES estimates that there would be a 69% reduction in emissions when this plan is implemented. 

The drawback is that, at least initially, this would mean no curbside pickup of glass. The city would switch to collection centers. The plan is to have enough collection sites throughout the city that nobody would be more than two miles from a collection location. 

We discussed contamination issues (always a problem with recycling and re-use programs), and also whether or not incentives would be necessary. Ward 6 has been running a pilot program for some time, and it’s been successful. Tucsonans have shown themselves to be savvy about these programs in the past and I am looking forward to this. We will be having online town hall meetings on the plan in January. I’ll keep you informed. 

I’d like to congratulate Senator Victoria Steele and Representative Diego DeGrazia, both Tucsonans, for being elected Minority Whips of their respective legislative bodies. I look forward to working with both of them and our entire delegation. 

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Next week, my staff will be off Thursday and Friday for the Thanksgiving holiday. They will be responding to all of your calls and emails the following Monday.