April 2021
Prescott’s Post-Consumer Patchwork

As Earth Day approaches we're reminded of our responsibility to the environment, and think about recycling as a way of doing our part.

Recycling is a confusing issue, especially since there is no state- or even county-administered program. Whether and what you can recycle depends on the options you have in your area. Folks who move here from California must adapt to a very different recycling protocol than what they had before. In addition to varying policies from town to town, the market for recycled materials changes frequently, which can cause the protocol used by your town to change. All of these things combine to create great confusion and can discourage us from going to the bother of sorting our solid waste.

In Prescott we have two options for recycling. The City is the only municipal entity that provides curbside pickup of recyclables to residents. There is also the city’s Solid Waste Division transfer station on Sundog Ranch Road, where dumpsters are available to the public for disposal of designated items. Per prescott-az.gov, commodities acceptable for recycling are:

• Paper

• Cardboard

• Food boxes

• Mail

• Beverage cans/aluminum

• Food cans/steel

• Glass bottles

• Glass and plastic jars and jugs

• #1 and #2 (only) plastic bottles

• #5 plastic containers

These commingled recyclables are shipped from the transfer station to Phoenix’s North Gateway Transfer Station and Materials Recovery Facility (MRF) per an Inter-Governmental Agreement between Prescott and Phoenix. Prescott Solid Waste Division Superintendent Brady Higgs recently shared that Prescott sent 5,500 tons of recyclables from its residential and commercial customers and the transfer station to the Phoenix MRF in FY2020, thereby diverting this tonnage from the Grey Wolf landfill on Cherry Road. Also in FY2020 the City shipped 175 tons of scrap metal to buyers.

Prescott does NOT accept the following items for recycling:

• Paperback or hardbound books

• Grass, yard or food waste

• Plastic bags

• Plastic foams

• Unrecyclable caps and lids

• Diapers

• Medical tubing

Since neither Chino Valley nor Prescott Valley offers municipal recycling, their residents must choose a private company for this service or take their recyclables to the Prescott transfer station.

The operative definition of recycling as it applies to the removal of matter from the solid waste stream is “the conversion of waste into reusable material.” This definition is key to understanding what can and can’t be recycled. If there is no market for an item (facial tissue or paper towels, for instance) to be converted into a salable new product, it cannot be recycled.

In the recycling business, recyclables are categorized as commodities. Just as corn, soybeans and wheat are sold as agricultural commodities, fiber (paper, cardboard, chipboard), metals, plastics and glass are recyclable commodities. The market prices paid for these commodities fluctuate depending on regional, national, and global supply and demand. Chinese companies have been buying scrap metal from the US for years, which pushed up the price, putting more change in your pocket for that old stove than you otherwise might have received.

Our recycling program here in Prescott does receive income from the sale of our recyclables in Phoenix, though the funds coming in do not cover the expense of collection, sorting and transportation. The rest of the funds needed to maintain the program come from residential collection fees. So while the program may not be entirely self-sustaining, people do feel strongly enough about recycling to be willing to pay extra to not have all their solid waste go directly into the landfill.

Many are under the misconception that all plastic containers are recyclable if they have a number on the bottom surrounded by the little chasing arrows. This number indicates the type of resin used in manufacturing the plastic, but only some of these materials can be recycled here. The City only recycles #1, 2 and 5 plastics. Another tip: while it may be easier for you to bag your recycling, please just dump the bag out into your bin, because the bags clog the sorting machines and slow down processing.

Recycling takes extra effort, to be sure, and it’s frustratingly confusing how protocols change from town to town, but we can make a difference if we're willing to make an effort.

Christine Mack worked at Sedona Recycles during the 1990s and has been emplyed at Prescott Area Habitat for Humanity since 2006; Abby Brill is Associate Editor of 5enses.

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