Sierra Vista, AZ.  04/27/18.  The City of Sierra Vista and Cochise County are considering changes to the local recycling system to adapt to a decline in global demand for recyclables.


The Sierra Vista City Council will be briefed on the situation at a work session on Tuesday, May 1, at 3 p.m. City staff will also present the council with options to adapt the City’s recycling program at a time when the international demand for recyclables has plummeted.


The City began offering weekly recycling pickups in 2012 as a means to divert trash from the landfill. The County took in the City’s recycling at no charge, because it could cover its costs by selling the recyclables. The City was able to reduce its refuse rate by about $1 per month in 2014 thanks to this program, since it reduced the cost incurred in tipping fees to dump trash at the landfill. The refuse service operates as an enterprise fund, meaning operational costs are completely paid for by user fees.


In recent months the value of recyclables has dropped significantly, turning this equation on its head. Paper has been hit the hardest and is now diminishing the overall value of the County’s stream of recyclables, as there is no market for it. The County is now incurring a cost of $53 per ton to transport recyclables to a vendor in Tucson. The City, which accounts for 97 percent of the County’s recycling, is covering that expense, which makes recycling only slightly cheaper than dumping trash in the landfill, for now.


“Our vendor has informed us that if we continue collecting our current mix of recyclables, they will need to start charging to accept it,” says Marty Haverty, director of the County’s Solid Waste Department. “It’s not just a local problem. Changes in China have upended the world’s recycling market.”


Starting Jan. 1, China enacted a ban on many categories of solid waste including certain plastics and paper. For years, China has been the top consumer of U.S. recyclable exports.

“We want to continue offering curbside recycling because it’s a service our residents value and it’s environmentally responsible,” Sierra Vista City Manager Chuck Potucek says. “But we also need to keep our refuse rates as stable as possible by adapting to the realities of the current market.”


Potential changes could include eliminating paper as a commodity accepted for recycling and revising the trash and recycling pickup schedule. Staff is preparing options for the council to discuss at Tuesday’s work session. Aside from paper, the other recyclables currently accepted by the County still retain some value and will generate a better return if not mixed with paper.


“One way the public can help is by reducing contamination in their blue bins. If we do change the commodities we accept, the City will need to ensure residents are well educated so we keep our recycling stream as clean as possible,” Potucek says.


The decline in the value of recyclables is one of the factors driving a proposal to increase the City’s residential refuse rates by up to 15 percent this year. City staff briefed the council regarding that proposal in March and posted a 60-day public notice. If approved, the rate increase would go into effect on July 1.



Adam Curtis, Public Information Officer, City of Sierra Vista, 1011 N. Coronado Dr., Sierra Vista, AZ 85635 (520) 458-3315 
Amanda Baillie, Public Information Officer, Cochise County, 1414 Melody Lane, Building G, Bisbee, AZ 85603 (520) 432-9214