Grappling with costs, Tucson is rethinking its recycling program

China’s new ban on materials including glass bottles and newspapers could cause Tucson’s recycling program to lose millions of dollars in fiscal year 2018-19. (File photo by Miles Metke/Cronkite News)

TUCSON – Citing sharply escalating financial losses in the city’s recycling program, Tucson officials said this week the city might have to stop taking glass bottles and newspapers until markets for those items recover.

China was the leading buyer of U.S. recyclables for more than 25 years. But 18 months ago, the country, citing environmental concerns, banned certain imports and lowered the rate of acceptable contamination to 0.05 percent from 3 to 5 percent.

With no buyer for these materials, Tucson officials said they expect the recycling program to lose $3.3 million in fiscal year 2018-19. That’s six times what the city’s Environmental Services Department predicted last summer.

Proposals to save the recycling program include increasing monthly recycling fees for homeowners from 45 cents to 75 cents and scaling down collections from weekly to twice monthly. The city intends to continue accepting metal cans, clean cardboard and plastic bottles and jugs because the market for those items remains good.

In cities across the U.S., including Phoenix and Flagstaff, many recyclables already are going to landfills.

This story is part of Elemental: Covering Sustainability, a new multimedia collaboration between Cronkite News, Arizona PBS, KJZZ, KPCC, Rocky Mountain PBS and PBS SoCal.

Connect with us on Facebook.