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Natural Awakenings Metro Phoenix & Northern Arizona

Reimagine Phoenix: Mayor Greg Stanton’s Bold Initiative: The city has big plans to expand its waste diversion and green waste services, says Kena Fedorschak

Feb 28, 2014 08:57AM ● By By Kena Fedorschak

Greg Stanton began his first mayoral term with the city of Phoenix in 2012. He has since undertaken a variety of efforts to promote sustainable development by targeting key social, economic and environmental challenges facing the city. Mayor Stanton’s initiatives have included the HERO (hire, educate, recruit and organize) program, designed to match veterans with potential employers, the Phoenix Homeless Initiative, to assist chronically homeless families, and the Read On Phoenix campaign, to increase youth literacy.

Additionally, he has undertaken efforts to bolster trade with Mexico, strengthen economic ties with high-tech California companies and establish an Ethics Reform Task Force to ensure fiscal responsibility within the city. Stanton’s largest sustainability undertaking is the Reimagine Phoenix project—an initiative designed to reduce the quantity of waste sent to the landfill each year.

Phoenix creates 2 billion pounds of trash each year—enough to fill Chase Field to the top 14 times over. The Reimagine Phoenix initiative will restructure the existing solid waste program, involve a community outreach campaign and create partnerships with regional and private sector organizations to increase the amount of waste diverted from landfills to 40 percent by 2020.

Waste diversion most commonly involves implementation of recycling programs that ensure that glass, paper, metal, plastic, textiles and electronic material is not needlessly discarded. Waste diversion can also be achieved through a reduction in the amount of organic matter that goes to the landfill; composting and other biological methods can efficiently break down such material. Currently, 16 percent of waste is diverted in Phoenix, far below the national average of 34.1 percent. The Reimagine Phoenix project is designed to aggressively tackle this challenge and increase diversion rates.

Stanton’s plan modifies the existing solid waste program in two primary ways. Residents will have the option to decrease the size of their curbside trash bin from 90 gallons to 60 gallons, resulting in a lower monthly bill and decreased waste generation. A voluntary green organics curbside collection service will also be implemented. For a small monthly fee, the city of Phoenix will make 90-gallon tan curbside bins available to residents for the purposes of recycling organic material such as grass, shrubs, tree clippings, etc. This material will then be chipped, mulched and resold as compost.

This green-waste service is expected to have a significant impact in reducing the landfill burden; a 2003 study conducted by Cascadia Consulting estimated that 28 percent of residential waste in Phoenix is compostable yard waste. A similar program implemented by the city of Mesa has seen great success—18,144 tons of organic waste was diverted in 2013.

The Reimagine Phoenix initiative will implement a strong community outreach program to educate and engage the public. This will include a rebranding of city websites, vehicles, billboards and waste containers with vivid graphics and messages. Outreach efforts will target organizations with large waste streams and create partnerships to reduce waste. For example, many apartment complexes do not recycle, and could see large diversion gains with minimal investment. So far, confirmed partners include the Mayo Clinic, Arizona Science Center, Phoenix Suns, Grand Canyon University, Univision, Sky Harbor Airport and PetSmart. The Arizona Diamondbacks will host a zero-waste spring training game on March 13.

The city of Phoenix also plans to enter into an intergovernmental agreement with the Arizona State University School of Sustainability to establish a Center for Resource Intelligence that is expected to provide a vast array of research, development and solution services. This sustainability incubator will serve both public and private interests by advocating for intelligent resource management. Stanton’s administration projects that the city of Phoenix investment will result in an additional 10 to 25 percent diversion beyond the Reimagine Phoenix target goal, with savings of $1 million to $3 million per year. Plus, the Public Works Departmental budget does not need to be increased to accommodate this investment.

Reimagine Phoenix is a bold initiative that will drive economic growth and promote environmental stewardship. A 40 percent diversion rate, while commendable, is still far behind that of many progressive cities. San Francisco, for instance, recently achieved a 79 percent waste diversion rate. Continued efforts in the sustainability domain should be undertaken to ensure prosperity for future generations. Stanton’s efforts are progressive and set a precedent—sustainable governance is critical for the modern city.

Kena Fedorschak co-founded the Honor Society for Sustainability at Arizona State University. He believes sustainable management practices can be implemented without negatively impacting the bottom line. Contact him at [email protected]. Special acknowledgement: Kelly Dalton, former deputy chief of staff to the mayor, was instrumental in the creation of this article.

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