Here’s why your recycling sometimes ends up at a Tucson landfill | local news
After a Tucson-area resident shared on the Nextdoor app that she heard that the company that picks up her recycling takes it to the landfill, without trying to recycle it, several neighbors responded that they would cancel their service.
Is the rumor true? The answer is, it depends.
A survey of companies in eastern Pima County outside the city of Tucson that pick up trash revealed that they all accept recycling and only take it to the landfill when it is severely contaminated.
The two smallest companies may not accept recycling in neighborhoods when only one or two households want to recycle. Then it is not cost effective.
Recycling is confusing. There’s no doubt about that. Winter visitors to Tucson may find it even more so if the rules are different from their summer homes.
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In some areas around the country, residents separate their plastics, metals and papers and often their glass in separate bins. This cuts down on contamination because it is very obvious when each bin has specific materials.
In the Tucson area, we use single-stream recycling. Everything goes in one bin, and it is sorted at the materials recovery facility. When everything goes in one bin, it’s easier to make mistakes.
When one recycling hauler accepts glass and another doesn’t, that’s confusing.
When residents don’t believe the things they put in their recycling containers are recycled, but are instead taken to the landfill, they feel it is OK to put almost anything in their curbside recycling containers. Once they do that, it is almost guaranteed it will go to a landfill because the entire load will be contaminated.
The rules for recycling vary by company, which can cause confusion for residents about what’s OK to place in their bins.
Courtesy of Republic Services
Never use your recycling container for trash. All of the trash and recycling companies in the area will work with someone who wants two trash containers and no recycling container, or some other combination. This would be preferable to the contaminated loads. Some may charge a fee for an extra container.
The most important thing to know about recycling in Tucson and Pima County is that you should not put anything in your recycling bin that doesn’t belong there. That includes plastic grocery bags, greasy pizza boxes, trash and — something you may find hard to believe is regularly found in recycling bins — dirty diapers.
The mantra for all recycling companies is: “When in doubt, throw it out.”
Rules of recycling
These items are typically allowed in curbside recycling:
#1-#7 plastic bottles and jugs. Rinse them out and then replace the caps.
Corrugated cardboard like packing boxes. Break them down and remove excessive packing tape. Pizza boxes are not accepted because they are greasy. If the top is clean, tear it off and put it in recycling without the bottom.
Look for cardboard as cereal or pasta boxes.
Milk and juice cartons, if they are clean.
Junk mail and office paper.
Aluminum cans and other metal food cans. You may leave the labels on.
All items must be clean with no food or grease on or in them.
As a general rule, don’t put anything smaller than a tennis ball in curbside recycling. When it is sorted by machine, these smaller things can fall through the machinery.
Never put plastic grocery bags or other flexible plastic materials such as bubble wrap and cellophane in curbside recycling. These can be recycled at most grocery stores.
There is a lot more that is recyclable and a lot more that is not recyclable. Check the website for your company for details.
Tucson Environmental Services
If you live in the city of Tucson, your trash and recycling is handled by Tucson. Recycling is picked up every other week and taken to the ReCommunity Recycling Center, owned by Republic Services.
Both trash and recycling containers are supplied by the city.
Tucson does not accept glass in curbside recycling. However, you may drop glass bottles and jars at several locations, which you will find online at tucne.ws/1l27.
Recycling is taken to the ReCommunity Recycling Center, owned by Republic Services.
Fees vary depending on location, deals with homeowners associations, how often pickup is needed and other factors.
Both trash and recycling containers are supplied.
Waste Management accepts items on the standard list, but it also accepts glass bottles and jars and is willing to pay a little extra to recycle it. Shredded paper is not permitted.
If the materials recovery facility reports heavy contamination from a specific truck, operators will be more vigilant in the neighborhoods that truck services and may try educating customers about what is permitted in curbside recycling.
Silver Point disposal
Residential recycling is taken to the Marana Regional Landfill to the single-stream recycling containers there. Waste Management then takes the contents to the ReCommunity Recycling Center.
Quarterly fees are usually $65 for twice weekly collection with some variations based on location. Discounts are available for military, first responders and teachers, but you must ask.
One container is supplied. Customers should put recycling loose — no plastic bags — in the bottom and put all trash in trash bags on top. The trash bags will be separated out when it is picked up.
This is a one-man operation, so owner Stephen Squires sees contamination right away. Anything more than the occasional mistake and the customer is notified by email or text.
Silver Point Disposal accepts the standard list of recyclables and glass bottles and jars.
Squires will also make pickups of just about any other items if notified by customers in advance. He will pick up yard waste, appliances and just about any large item. He will take these to appropriate places to recycle them when appropriate and to the landfill, if that is the only option. He will also take hazardous waste separately if notified in advance.
Those who are not customers of Silver Point Disposal may call Squires to arrange the pickup of something that can’t be left for their regular hauler. The fee will depend on what the pickup is and where it must go.
Hughes Sanitation Services LLC
Residential recycling is taken to the Tucson Transfer Station on Ina Road. Residents can no longer drop off their own recycling at this location.
Fee is up to $10 per month for every other week pickup. Trash containers are supplied. There is an additional fee if a second trash bin is requested. Customers provide their own recycling containers.
Hughes Sanitation accepts the standard list of recyclables with the exception of #2-#7 plastics and glass.
If contamination is seen, flyers are left for the customer.
Employees work on the sorting machinery at Republic Services’ recycling center in Tucson.
Rebecca Sasnett, Arizona Daily Star
republicservices.com and recyclingsimplified.com, 520-745-8820
Recycling is taken to the Republic Services’ materials recovery facility.
Trash and recycling is picked up once per week. Charges vary based on location and HOA contracts. Trash and recycling containers are provided; different sizes are available.
Operators try to watch for contamination but usually use automatic side loaders so checking isn’t easy.
Republic accepts the standard list of recyclables including glass bottles and jars.
Right Away Disposal (RAD)
RAD is now Waste Connections of Arizona. Go to tucne.ws/1l2a for a comprehensive list of what’s accepted.
Recycling is taken to a materials recovery facility in Apache Junction and sorted by hand.
Containers are provided. Fees vary based upon location and other circumstances.
RAD put recycling services on hold for a few months at the beginning of COVID because recycling was hand sorted and it was being cautious for its employees’ sakes. It is back to recycling regularly.
What if you live in an apartment that doesn’t have recycling?
Talk to the manager of your complex and try to convince them to add recycling containers near the dumpster.
Take your recycling to a neighborhood recycling center. You’ll find a list of those in Tucson at tucne.ws/1l2b and information about Pima County recycling at tucne.ws/1l2c.
Johanna Eubank is a digital producer for the Arizona Daily Star and tucson.com. She has been with the Star in various capacities since 1991.
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