After years in recycling hospice, Payson pulled the plug on its long-suffering recycling program — at least for now.

The council on July 25 suspended “town-sponsored recycling bins” pending a better option from Gila County, Waste Management or another partner.

Councilor Steve Smith said he wants to leave recycling to private companies.

“This is an opportunity for a private business. I don’t think that the government should be sticking its tax dollars into this private business,” he said.

So far, efforts to recycle have mostly just made trash service for the town more expensive.

Assistant Town Manager Sheila DeSchaaf said, “The cost for regular trash collection at all municipal facilities, including off-site facilities and the parks, is $17,308 per year — excluding special events and other miscellaneous needs.”

In comparison, “The cost for the two 30-yard recycling bins that are currently being emptied twice a week is $19,200.”

And it really is trash service.

Piles of trash left next to recycling bins at Green Valley Park have spurred resident complaints for months.

Worse yet — the recycling materials inside the bins often ends up in the landfill because they get “contaminated,” and crews bring everything to the dump instead, said DeSchaaf.

“If you’re recycling pizza boxes with other boxes, they are contaminating everything. The sauce or cheese gets in the bin and it (the recycling) is contaminated. Then it all ends up in the landfill,” she said.

DeSchaaf is looking for solutions.

“The county has a new sanitation director along with a new director for the Buckhead landfill,” she said. “They are willing partners (in recycling).”

Just before the meeting, DeSchaaf had a call from “a company out of Utah” who told her “Payson is their ideal market” for curbside recycling service.

DeSchaaf said in Pinetop employees man a recycle drop-off location so trash is not thrown in as well.

“That is one idea,” she said.

Besides residents throwing garbage in recycling bins, another problem with the recycling program is that recycling products no longer have much value — to either a public or private entity because China has stopped buying our trash.

Why? Because curbside recycle programs didn’t require people to sort their recyclables. This throw-everything-in-one-recycle-bin philosophy contributed to contamination.

China bought U.S. recyclables for years — despite the contamination problem. Finally, China concluded it couldn’t keep dumping U.S. trash in its landfills.

Today, DeSchaaf said the two recyclables “still with value are paper (excluding cardboard) and plastic bottles.”

So just like communities across the nation, Payson is shutting down its recycling program.

“We don’t have a recycling problem, we have a trash problem,” said Councilor Suzy Tubbs-Avakian.

The average American produces about 1,600 pounds of trash every year. Even at the height of recycling, only about a third of recyclable waste actually ended up recycled — mostly at the end of that around-the-world ride on a ship.

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