Mesa will resume its suspended recycling program later this month while pursuing a potential long-term solution through construction of an East Valley regional recycling center estimated to cost $30 million-$38 million.
Mesa residents are being asked to “retrain” themselves after a six-month recycling hiatus by being careful to put the right kinds of garage into blue and green barrels when pickup beings Oct. 26.
While the regional center would free the city from the risk of price increases, cancelation of contracts and even uncertainty over whether the material actually get recycled, it also would require regional cooperation along with the high price tag.
Officials said Gilbert has expressed interest in joining the effort, though Mesa has months of negotiations with the town and other municipalities before it can determine whether the plan is feasible and affordable.
Mesa does not generate enough recyclable material to make such a facility pay off, so it would need other municipalities’ beer and soda cans, plastic bottles and other items to make the project worthwhile.
Mesa City Council has not made a commitment to build a regional facility, but it tentatively backed the concept and asked Scott Bouchie, environmental management and sustainability director, to pursue the plan further and report back in six months.
Bouchie’s report, which is based on consultation with experts at Arizona State University, said it would likely take four to six years to bring such a regional facility to fruition.
“I’ve had a lot of people say, ‘charge me an extra buck or two, I want to get back into recycling,’’ Mesa Mayor John Giles said. “We have a commitment to recycling and sustainability.’’
But he added that all potential options for resurrecting the program depend on the cooperation of residents, with tolerance for contamination dropping along with many commodity prices.
“We need to be more sophisticated with our recycling,’’ Giles said.
Bouchie said he welcomes the return of recycling and that residents will need to demonstrate they want it through cooperation.
Green barrels are for yard waste, such as tree branches, while the blue barrels are for beverage bottles and cans, and paper products.
Plastic bags are the arch enemies of recycling machines and need to be dropped off at supermarket return bins.
“You can either be part of the solution or part of the problem,’’ Bouchie said. “I think the next several months will determine the future of what recycling looks like in Mesa.’’
Mesa’s program was suspended in March, when the COVID-19 pandemic hit Arizona.
A recycling facility owned by Republic Services had burned down in October 2019 and other companies had either cancelled contracts or raised rates.
A contract with United Fibers remains in effect, but the contractor will only accept up to six tons of materials. Mesa generates more than 30 tons, leaving a shortfall until Republic rebuilds their plant by the third quarter of 2021.
Bouchie said that Gilbert, faced with many of the same issues as Mesa, has expressed preliminary support for the concept, but details are yet to be hammered out.
“We’ve had preliminary discussions and they are definitely interested,’’ Bouchie told Council on Thursday. “I think with the City of Mesa and Town of Gilbert, we could be at full capacity. With growth, I think we would be at full capacity in about 10 years.’’
Mesa already has selected a possible location for the regional facility – on some city owned property at Pecos and Sossaman roads, which is near the Gilbert border – he said.
Chandler and Queen Creek would have more difficulty participating in such a regional arrangement because they do not pick up their garbage, contracting instead with private companies that own private recycling facilities, Bouchie said.
City Manager Chris Brady said Mesa does not like being vulnerable to the decisions of private companies, which have cancelled contracts, raised rates, restricted what can be recycled and refused to even guarantee that recyclable materials would even get recycled.
“There may be a need for short term solutions. The regional solution would need to be vetted out more,’’ Brady said. “We know we can keep sputtering along and do private sector contracts. We may end up doing a hybrid of two or three’’ options.
Other options mentioned by Bouchie include building a smaller, cheaper facility that would only handle a portion of Mesa’s recycling or contracting with Phoenix, which operates two facilities of its own.
A Phoenix regional solution would involve building transfer stations, where loads of Mesa recycling would be loaded onto large trucks and delivered to a facility at 27th Avenue and Lower Buckeye Road, at a cost of about $20 million-$25 million.
Council members Jen Duff and Dave Luna immediately supported building a regional recycling center. Luna compared such an effort with regional agreements on wastewater treatment.
Councilman Kevin Thompson immediately opposed such a facility but expressed support for a less ambitious regional solution.
“I think recycling is important in our community. There are people willing to pay more to recycle,’’ Thompson said. “I like the regional plan but I am not a big fan’’ of the city building the facility.
But Luna said, “I think the regional arrangement will be positive. We know we need this. Why not share the cost’’ with other cities and towns?
Duff said Mesa residents need to get back into the habit of recycling.
Residents can visit mesarecycles.org and use a computer wizard that will help them identify what items qualify for recycling.
The general rule of thumb is, “when in doubt, keep it out,’’ to avoid spoiling a load with contamination.
Bouchie praised the efforts of Mesa residents overall, but his report highlighted the need for improvement.
While the green barrels were 88 percent clean, the blue barrels were 30 percent clean, with 56 percent exhibiting a need for further education of residents on which items qualify.
“If you have been using a blue barrel for trash, it’s time to up your game and get back to clean materials,’’ Duff said. “We need to recycle properly immediately. Now is the time to clean this up.’’