The City of Flagstaff is now taking emergency steps to resume services after suspending recycling collection for more than a week.
The city resumed service last week by shipping recyclables to a city-operated material recovery facility.
At this time, the city has not yet signed a long-term contract with Phoenix to do the work. Flagstaff City Council is scheduled to discuss such a deal next week.
But some residents question whether moving the ship’s materials to Phoenix ironically contradicts the city’s sustainability goals.
The short answer to that question is no, said Nicole Antonopoulos, the city’s sustainability director. But this will be addressed by the sustainability department in the coming months as the city considers long-term recycling solutions, she said.
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In reality, even when the materials were sorted and processed at the Norton facility in Flagstaff, they were sent to the Phoenix market in the first place.
As such, the carbon footprint generated by shipping materials to Phoenix for processing is likely similar to that generated before the Norton Environmental facility’s abrupt closure last month.
Similarly, it’s very important that the city does everything it can to keep material from entering the Cinder Lake landfill and to extend the life of the landfill, Antonopoulos said.
The main reason is that closing Cinder Lake and rebuilding a new landfill after it fills up would be an incredibly expensive and complicated process. The cost of finding ways to reduce the amount of waste that goes into landfills is insignificant compared to the future costs of replacing Cinderlake.
In addition, reducing material sent to Cinder Lake also reduces greenhouse gas emissions from landfills. Landfills account for 11% of the city’s greenhouse gas emissions, according to city documents.
When waste decomposes in landfills, it often produces greenhouse gases such as methane, which have a climate impact 28 times greater than carbon dioxide.
City officials have long held a goal of extending the life of the Cinder Lake landfill to at least 2072.
Antonopoulos said one thing that can help Flagstaff’s recycling sustainability efforts is to reduce the pollution rate of recycled materials in Flagstaff.
The city has long been plagued by residents trying to recycle materials it can’t handle, resulting in more recycled material being dumped.
“My hope is that, together as a community, we can focus our efforts on recycling correctly and improving overall pollution rates. Because it’s coming,” Antonopoulos said.
Antonopoulos said the sustainability department has been conducting recycling audits for years and trying to share information about what can and cannot be recycled.
“Certain plastics, plastic packaging, bubble wrap, etc. are incredibly commonly thrown into recycling bins. ” said Antonopoulos.
Recent changes in flagstaff recycling are likely to reinvigorate these efforts.
But Antonopoulos said it often boils down to throwing something in the trash if you’re not 100% sure it can be recycled.
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