Tucson looks for ways to save recycling

Saving Tucson's recycling program

TUCSON, AZ (KOLD News 13) - Tucson's recycling program lost $3.5 million last year prompting city leaders to look for ways to cut its losses and save the program.

Next week, city leaders will vote on a plan to reduce the pickup days by half. Instead of 52 weeks a year, it will be cut to 26, saving $1.4 million.

It will also discuss whether to take another $2.0 million from the bed tax to make up the shortfall.

The Environmental Services department is an enterprise fund which means it must have a balanced budget. This change will balance it but it’s likely not a sustainable model.

A renewed effort for education is also part of the plan.

When the recycling program began in the 1980s, it was seen as a money maker and a savior for the environment.

Today, it is neither.

"You could really make some money in recycling," said Carlos De La Torre, the Director of Environmental Service. "So it made sense to invest in a facility, invest in the program."

But the market has dropped out, in part, because China no longer buys Tucson's recyclable materials.

"The market is no longer there," De La Torre said.

Another option is to raise fees, which have not been increased in a decade but that is not a preferred option.

"Raising rates is always an option," he said. "Obviously, we don't think that is an option we need to take at this time."

It’s hoped the actions taken this year will buy some time, because De La Torre says there is some optimism the market will soon make a comeback.

"We don't want to take the chance that it does pick up and a year from today, they're saying why did you do that," he said. "You didn't give it time to gel."

While many other communities have scrapped their recycling programs in the face of increasing costs, he does not believe that will happen here.

"The public expects some services to be delivered," he said. "We're a government, we can't make changes on our own."

The Tucson City Council will discuss the proposed changes at its study session next week.

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