Wednesday, August 10, 2022

Where are we supposed to put all this friggen' trash!?

The piles of brush and bulky in our neighborhood got me thinking about where all our trash goes after it is picked up. I have never understood why they pick up the tree branches and other organic materials at the same time as other big junk like broken washing machines, flat tires, and furniture. It all goes into the Los Reales landfill. 

The Los Reales landfill takes in 2,300 tons of solid waste daily and the city spends roughly $8 million every year to process waste at the site.

A big portion of our trash that ends up in landfills is food waste. The US EPA estimates that more food reaches landfills and incinerators than any other single material in our everyday trash, constituting 24% of the amount landfilled and 22% of the amount incinerated. When food waste ends up in landfills, it decomposes and releases methane, a greenhouse gas 21 times more potent than CO2. 

How can we keep that food waste out of our landfill?  In addition to cutting down our food waste,  I'd like to see the city offer a separate bin for food scraps so it can be composted for community and neighborhood gardens. I have a "lazy compost pile" myself.  And my neighbors' food scraps don't go to the landfill either - because they give them to me! 

Is there anything else we can do to cut down on the trash going into the landfill?  One of the first solutions people think of is recycling. After all... recycling materials takes less energy than mining materials and producing new products. But all those products we consume contribute to climate change -  even before it gets to the landfill. According to Sustainable Tucson's Zero Waste Lead, Kevin Green:
The US EPA published a landmark report in 2009 that found 42% of the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in the U.S. are associated with the energy used to produce, process, transport, and dispose of the goods we use and food we eat. This includes the extraction or harvesting of materials and food. The report indicates that 29% of GHGs result from goods produced within the US, while food production contributes 13% of the GHGs.
So consuming less trash in the first place is really the way to go. That's why many people are moving towards a "zero waste" lifestyle where you follow the 6 R's of Sustainability: Rethink/Refuse, Reduce, Reuse/Repair, Repurpose, Recycle, and Rot (compost).

“Zero Waste: The Conservation of all resources by means of responsible production, consumption, reuse, and recovery of all products, packaging, and materials without burning them and with no discharges to land, water, or air that threaten the environment or human health.

And there are other problems with recycling.  For one, you need a buyer for those materials. ReCommunity Recycling Center no longer recycles glass because it doesn't have a buyer. I was shocked to find that they were throwing glass bottles into the landfill because it cost the city 3 million dollars a year to store it. Hearing his constituents' dismay, our Council Member Steve Kozachik championed a project to crush glass to make into cement and sandbags. Now we have glass drop-off sites all over town.  

But there were other problems with our recycling program - namely contamination. That means putting gross things in our recycling like dirty takeout containers or even soiled diapers. It was so bad that we nearly lost our recycling program because China would no longer accept our dirty trash! But we haven't totally learned our lesson. We still put things that aren't recyclable in our recycling bin - like Styrofoam and plastic bags. (Plastic bags jam up the recycling machine.) Currently, the city only recycles #1 and #2 plastics. 

Since so many of his constituents were frustrated about how much plastic ends up in the landfill, our pragmatic city council member came up with another innovative solution - making plastic blocks out of much of the plastic that can't be recycled, including plastic bags! He is currently conducting a pilot program to demonstrate to the Mayor and Council that the public will support the idea.  He's asking his constituents to drop off the plastic that couldn't be recycled at the Ward 6 office. (See the list below.)    

I have mixed feelings about this - because of the reasons I mentioned above.  If you're already living a zero waste lifestyle, no doubt you will be making few or no trips to the Ward 6 office to drop off your plastic scraps. Keep up the good work. But in the current consumer culture, many of us have found it impossible to be be entirely zero waste. We are doing our best to reduce waste by toting refillable water bottles, recycled glass jars, reusable grocery, bulk and produce bags.  But there are still products that we can't get in bulk or plastic free, like mushrooms wrapped in plastic and a lot of organic produce. What the heck?!!! Until our community can make the paradigm shift we need, Steve K's plastic block project is a good start.  

I do have one suggestion though. Instead of using EVEN MORE PLASTIC by putting it in the plastic bags Steve provides in his starter kits, please put it in one of the many plastic bags that we can't help getting.  

This is a cereal bag that I'm putting in a bigger bag we got with a delivery. Don't judge. 

Here's a message from Steve: 

Ward 6 Wants Your Non-Recyclable Plastic Trash

From now until the end of the year Council Member Kozachik and the Ward 6 Office are hosting a pilot program in which we are collecting non-recyclable plastics and turning them into construction-grade building blocks. All those plastic materials you cannot place in the blue bin are right now ending up in the landfill. We want them. And we’ve got free plastic bags for you to collect them in before dropping them off at the ward office.

We’ll be handing out free clear plastic bags along with informational material describing the pilot project we’re hosting. Bring us bubble wrap, plastic drink cups, lids and straws, candy bags, single use plastic bags, 6-pack holders, plastic food trays – bring it all. Working with our partners in this program – ByFusion, Tank’s Green Stuff and the City of Tucson Environmental Services – we'll turn that waste into reusable products you’ll soon see in building projects around the city.

The Ward 6 Office is located at 3202 E. 1st Street. Stop by and grab your Starter Kit and join us in being a part of this waste reduction/reuse program. Nobody else in the state of Arizona is doing this, so your involvement is a part of Tucson residents leading the state by example – once again! Thanks to Reyna Preciado from KGUN for stopping by the ward office and covering the story. Here’s a link to her piece.

Councilman Steve Kozachik is collecting rerecyclable plastic - KGUN 9

Recently ByFusion was highlighted in national media through CNN (See link below.)  You can see their operation in action and hear the background on how this whole idea got started. You’ll see that our pilot is a part of cutting-edge stuff that only a handful of jurisdictions are currently doing. We don’t mind leading by example – and we love it that so many of you are on board.

In the video, you see them building various structures with the blocks. I’ve shared this image before – it's the seat bench we built out in San Gabriel neighborhood. The seat is made from Anita Goodrich’s crushed glass (also spawned in the ward 6 garage) and the blocks are the one’s we’re now collecting plastic for. If you want to see the San Gabriel bench it’s in their pocket park located at Irving and Santa Barbara. When you go by, don’t worry about it looking kind of lonely in that location. We are working with Tucson Clean & Beautiful on a landscape design for the area. Planting is scheduled for this fall.

Here’s the graphic showing what we can use. 

"On Sunday, I did a little dumpster diving in our Plastics Only bin – I was removing Styrofoam someone had thrown in. NO STYROFOAM. It is not plastic and constitutes contamination in this process. It belongs in the trash."



Tucson councilman collecting plastic trash for construction projects


  1. Great program Steve your a problem solver I lke your ideas

  2. Steve your the best problem solver I know Thanks

  3. Such great ideas. I wish that the manufacturers would reduce, all the unnecessary packaging for groceries. I feel alot of garbage comes unnecessary packaging as well.