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Phoenix’s Quest to Turn Trash Into Cash

Phoenix's future waste innovation hub will be located near its recycling facility. Photo credit: City of Phoenix

By Elizabeth Daigneau for GOVERNING

As City Manager Ed Zuercher tells it, trash “is in Phoenix’s DNA.” From two guys throwing cans of garbage into the back of a truck to automated side-loading trucks to single-stream recycling, Phoenix, says Zuercher, has always been innovative in solid waste. Now the desert city has plans to take its long-running relationship with waste innovation a step further: It wants to turn trash into a resource.

That’s the tagline for the city’s new sustainability initiative, which calls for reducing the amount of trash sent to city landfills by 40 percent over the next five years. It’s an ambitious goal. While Phoenix was one of the first cities in the country to introduce single-stream recycling, it only has a 16 percent diversion rate – well below the national average of 34 percent.

In order to meet the ambitious target, Phoenix needs an ambitious plan. That’s where its Resource Innovation Campus comes in.

As its name suggests, the campus will be a hub for waste innovation. The focus will be on what city leaders call the “5 R’s”: reduce, reuse, recycle, reconsider and reimagine. This might mean, for instance, turning a beer bottle into new glassware or compost into natural gas.

Construction on the hub is scheduled to start next year on 50 acres of vacant land in the southern portion of the city. Adjacent to a closed landfill, a transfer station and a recycling facility, the land will become home to an Arizona State University (ASU) research center and waste-to-products companies.

With access to the city’s solid waste stream, these businesses will work with the university to create new uses for garbage. “We’re giving local researchers the tools they need to turn trash into cash,” says Mayor Greg Stanton.

In addition to the research and development campus, Phoenix is building a compost facility on the site, which will be completed and in operation by next summer.

Read more at GOVERNING

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