Recycling Too Costly For Town

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Mattresses, animal parts and empty colostomy bags don't constitute recyclable material, but somehow these items find a way into Payson's paper-recycling bins.

And most of the time, the objectionable garbage isn't discovered until the refuse is hauled to the Valley, dumped on a sorting floor and picked through by workers.

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Michelle Roberts struggles to put flattened cardboard into a recycling bin at Green Valley Park. The bins are often overflowing due to the popularity of the program.

When that happens, the entire load is worthless. It's dumped out with the regular trash and the town pays for it anyway.

At a cost of $250 a load or about $24,000 a year, recycling just doesn't pay -- at least for Payson, said Buzz Walker, public works director. "The value of the product is zero. Recycling is never going to pay for itself."

Mayor Bob Edwards said he encourages waste reduction, but it's a service the town can't afford to support.

"I don't think the town should be putting money into recycling," he said. "What is the best way to do it in total? It's got to make sense. Right now, it isn't working."

Arizona recycling programs are, for the most part, left in the hands of local municipalities.

"You have to have the political will locally," Walker said.

Wickenburg operates a successful, small-town recycling operation with the help of a mutually beneficial partnership with local Lions Club.

Dawn Bender, of the Wickenburg Public Works Department, oversees the town's end of the program.

"We had to sell the council that, ‘Yeah, it might cost a few dollars,'" she said, "but it was the right thing to do."

Club volunteers collect and sort 11,000 pounds of newspapers and cardboard boxes each week. The town saves on personnel costs and the club raises $35,000 a year from the revenue it receives from the value of clean paper.

In 2001, the mayor formed an ad hoc committee to determine the feasibility of a recycling program.

The council approved the program two years later and spent $100,000, some derived through grant money, to get it off the ground.

Now under way, Bender runs her program, including public relations costs, for about $20,000 annually.

Wickenburg's sorting system operates on a drop-off basis. The town accepts nearly every type of recyclable item, everything from plastic to aluminum.

Wickenburg can't afford to process the material in town, so it contracts with the City of Glendale for hauling services. Bender said the town pays about $350 a trip when needed.

When the program began, the town produced four tons a month. That number is up to 10 tons a month in 2006.

Beginning in 1998, Payson has addressed recycling as a top goal for nearly a decade in its Corporate Strategic Plan -- it's an objective still in limbo.

Manpower and funding are key elements of operating a municipal recycling program, but without state laws and town control, the task is impossible.

"Our problem is we don't control the garbage pickup in town," Town Manager Fred Carpenter said. "When Payson incorporated, it never took over the garbage operation."

Indiana, Illinois and Wisconsin are just a few of the Midwestern states that have long operated under state-mandated recycling laws.

Kansas, for instance, regulates the collection, transportation and maintenance of waste-management services.

The recycling efforts of Payson started in the early 1990s.

In 1991, Walker proposed a recycling program with Gila County, but the program failed when the county declined to help underwrite a $60,000 refuse transfer station.

Several years and councils later, the town again tried to facilitate a recycling program. Community Recycling Services, opened in 1998 by Chicago businessman Frank Heemstra, established a privately owned recycling drop-off center in Sky Park.

A year later, he asked the town to partner with him on a curbside recycling program.

"(Heemstra) reported he is having difficulty collecting enough recycled material to successfully operate his business," Underkofler wrote in 1999.

Former mayor Barbara Brewer, then a town councilor, also worked with Heemstra on keeping the recycling program alive.

"The town never did help him out," she said. "He couldn't afford to keep the doors open."

That same year, he closed his business.

By winter 2000, another recycler came to town. His name was Tyler Tabar, and he operated Arizona Recycling Curbside Specialists.

Tabar, literally, found himself drowning in trash less than six months later. Unable to keep up with the volume, Tabar warehoused the refuse in a storage facility, threw it in Waste Management bins and hauled it to Glendale. Tabar eventually left town.

Residents of the Rim Country who want to recycle more than cans or paper drive to the Valley.

Donna Steckal loves bottled water, but she drives to Mesa to unload the plastic containers.

"I value the environment and I want to participate and contribute as best as I can to keeping it clean," she said.

To make a recycling program work in 2006, the town would have to franchise garbage services -- that would take council approval. In that case, the town would employ one waste collector to handle the recycling pickup.

"We would have to buy them out," Carpenter said. "It would be a major investment."

The personnel costs alone to sort through garbage and enforce codes create prohibitive expenses.

"The best avenue is to get some nonprofits to do this," he added.

"It's not cost-effective any other way. You're going to have a negative cash flow in the recycling business."

Several businesses and organizations in town contribute to recycling efforts.

The Payson Humane Society accepts aluminum cans in its Dalmatian-spotted containers; Bashas', Safeway and Wal-Mart accept used plastic bags; and Rye Recycling takes in metals, paper and other material.

For more information about other recycling locations, contact the Town of Payson at (928) 474-5242.

A new recycling task force has also been formed to discuss options.

To get involved, contact Leon Keddington at emk@npgcable.com.

For more information about other recycling centers, contact the Public Works Department at (928) 474-5242.

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