Reimagine Phoenix initiative hopes to turn trash into an economic engine

The city hopes an initiative called Reimagine Phoenix can help turn the city's trash into one of its economic engines. (Sierra LaDuke/DD)
The city hopes an initiative called Reimagine Phoenix can help turn the city’s trash into one of its economic engines. (Sierra LaDuke/DD)

The city of Phoenix is calling for innovators to help repurpose the city’s trash in an initiative called Reimagine Phoenix.

Currently, Phoenix generates enough trash in a year to fill a major league baseball stadium seven times and needs to drive seven million miles to collect and transport it, said Gretchen Wolfe, project manager for the city’s Community and Economic Development Department, referencing a study done by the city.

The city hopes to divert 40 percent of that trash from the landfill by the year 2020 while creating a circular economy where trash is repurposed as resources for new products.

“Reimagine Phoenix is great for the City because it gives us a chance to educate the community about our programs and services and the importance of recycling and diversion efforts which will have a positive impact on the environment and economy,” said Ginger Spencer, the assistant public works director for the city of Phoenix.

U.S. Airways Center has collaborated with the city to help divert the stadium’s trash from the landfill, said Hector Dorame, facility services manager for the Phoenix Suns. However, he declined to say how much trash the stadium produces.

To reach the 2020 goal, the city is looking for businesses that can process or repurpose challenging items in the trash through Requests for Proposals for a pilot program called “Transforming Trash into Resources.”

Challenging items are materials that require a more innovative approach towards repurposing. These items include non-rechargeable batteries, carpeting, furniture, latex paint, mattresses, palm fronds and residential food waste.

The city also put out a Call for Innovators to seek input from on how the city’s land and trash can best be used to create economic value.

“The CFI and RFP innovate how the city processes what you and I toss in the trash can and the recycle bin and puts those items back into our economy to generate jobs, manufacture products and attract new businesses to Phoenix,” Wolfe said.

Reimagine Phoenix also includes plans to turn 27th Avenue and Lower Buckeye Road into a Resource Innovation Campus that could potentially house a composting facility with the ability to divert some of the 400 million pounds of compostable materials sent to the landfill, pending approval from city council in April.

Charles Hamstra, deputy public works director for the city, said there are currently more green organics in the waste stream than the city of Phoenix can process. To remedy this, the composting facility could process 110,000 tons of material, which is equivalent to the amount collected from recycling.

“We’re hoping to encourage citizens to have a blue barrel for recycling, a trash barrel and a tan barrel for green organics,” Hamstra said.

The material from the tan container will then be pulled out of the waste stream, processed through the composting facility and made into products that can be used by Phoenix residents instead of going to the landfill.

The composting facility will also be designed to process food waste, which makes up 14.5 percent of residents’ trash.

The city commissioned a waste characterization study to further understand what is in the trash of Phoenix residents. The study was spanned over summer and winter, and the samples came from across the city. The results of the study’s initial phase were presented at a March 24 Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee meeting.

The data showed that in the summer of 2014 only 24.4 percent of residential garbage was not recoverable — the rest could have been repurposed. About 15 percent of the material that could have been recycled through curbside collection was actually being disposed.

Hamstra explained that about $4-$5 million of potential revenue is lost in the landfill, all because recyclables are being placed in the wrong bin.

“What we know is that education needs to be constant and continuous,” he said.

Phoenix’s diversion rate is currently at 20 percent and the city hopes to reach 40 percent with the help of more partners. Reimagine Phoenix is already partnered with Arizona State University’s Rob and Melani Walton Sustainability Solutions Initiatives and has received numerous inquires from innovators. The deadline to submit responses for the CFI and RFP is April 14, 2015 at 2 p.m..

Contact the reporter at Sara.Vermilyea@asu.edu.