City Of Phoenix Could Bring Recycling To Businesses

May 23, 2014

(Photo by Nick Blumberg - KJZZ)
A rare sight: city of Phoenix commercial recycling bins outside Short Leash Hot Dogs in the Roosevelt Row neighborhood.
(Photo by Nick Blumberg - KJZZ)
Short Leash co-owner Kat Moore.

The city of Phoenix says its trucks drive four million miles a year picking up trash. But during their travels, those trucks don't stop at businesses or apartment and condo buildings.

On a recent Monday night at the monthly meeting of the Roosevelt Row Merchants Association, a city of Phoenix staffer made a presentation on a program offering city recycling services to local businesses.

"The city of Phoenix is prohibited from doing business directly with commercial entities, however we can extend our services to nonprofit organizations," he said.

That's right — Phoenix is prevented from offering recycling pickup to commercial entities like businesses and most apartment and condo buildings. It's written into the city code, though nobody was sure why.

Phoenix can provide recycling for nonprofits, like the Roosevelt Row Merchants Association. A six-month trial program for neighborhood businesses kept 15 tons of material out of landfills, according to the city. Now, Phoenix is offering recycling pickup for Roosevelt Row businesses on an ongoing basis, which makes neighborhood leader Greg Esser a happy man.

"I think the only reason more people haven't participated is simply the lack of ways to physically and logistically participate in recycling," Esser said.

One of the businesses using Phoenix for recycling is Short Leash Hot Dogs, which hosted the merchants' group. Owner Kat Moore said her location on Roosevelt also takes deliveries for a pop-up restaurant, and for two food trucks.

"That's basically like four restaurants in one place that we have to get food for," Moore said. That means a lot of recycled material. "A lot of boxes, a lot of bottles and cans, and then there's potential compost as well."

Phoenix has a goal of diverting 40 percent of waste from landfills by the year 2020. Right now, the diversion rate is 18 percent. Assistant Public Works Director John Trujillo said the city is partnering with Arizona State to reach that goal in a few years.

"Either with new programs, which we're talking about today, commercial and multifamily, or new technology development and utilizing the material differently than burying it," Trujillo said.

This is also about money. Trujillo pointed out the city sells some of the recyclable material it picks up.

"The net revenue is about $5 million," he said. That money helps keep monthly waste collection fees down. Without it: "We would need to add an additional $1.37."

So, could offering recycling services for businesses and multifamily homes citywide bring in even more money?

"In discussions with other cities, that is correct," Trujillo said.

Phoenix is the most populous city in Arizona. Of the other cities who round out the top ten, seven of them offer recycling services to businesses and multifamily homes. In order for Phoenix to join their ranks, it would take city council action.

"If we were going to make changes in the business recycling policy, we would really want to hear from the business community that that's something they’d like to see happen," said Councilwoman Kate Gallego. "It's frustrating for folks who want to do the right thing and don't have the option. There's some private sector partners who don't offer as many services as the city does."

To be sure, there would be complications to smooth out if Phoenix started offering commercial recycling. They would likely need more staff and the right kinds of equipment. There would also be small-scale concerns, like what size containers businesses can get, and how often they'll get picked up.

That's what Kat Moore with Short Leash Hot Dogs wants to know. She said recycling bins take up space in an already-tiny parking lot.

"Unless we have people eating, we don't have any trash to throw away. It's kind of full-circle. I need people to eat, and then I'll deal with their trash," she said.