BULLHEAD CITY — Bullhead City residents can expect changes in the recycling program conducted through the city by Republic Services. What those changes will be, and when they occur, are yet to be determined.
“In a nutshell, recycling is broken,” said Bullhead City Manager Toby Cotter, kicking off an hour-long discussion on recycling during Tuesday afternoon’s special City Council work session. “It might be worse than that. It might be worse than broken.”
Two separate factors are hindering the local recycling program, according to Cotter and Matt Cross, general manager for Republic Services’ Bullhead City-area operation. First, there is little market for bulk recycling material. And second, Bullhead City residents apparently can’t distinguish trash from recyclables.
“Residents are seemingly doing a very poor job recycling,” Cotter said before noting that Republic estimates that about 70 percent of items in the weekly recycling collection aren’t recyclable.
“That’s a problem we have in our community,” Cotter said.
Cross showed a video of a recent trip to Republic’s recyclables yard where Republic’s trucks dump items collected on Thursdays and Fridays — days set aside for recycling collection — for sorting and processing. An assortment of household trash dominated the collection.
Cross said the video wasn’t an anomaly. It was typical.
Most of the recyclable material collected was contaminated and could not be used for recycling. So instead of it being processed by a firm in Las Vegas into bundles of bulk recyclables that can be sold for reuse, it was dumped in a Clark County landfill.
Cross said it was essentially taking Bullhead City garbage on a long, expensive trip, shipping it to a Nevada landfill instead of one in Mohave County.
Bullhead City began a voluntary recycling program around 2007, placing collection bins at Walmart, Sam’s Club and in a shopping center on Hancock Road. Collection included aluminum, paper and cardboard.
After receiving community input, the Bullhead City Council entered into an agreement with Republic in 2011, altering the waste management company’s collection from twice weekly for household trash to once weekly for trash and once weekly for recyclables.
Cross said that when the Bullhead City recycling program began, Republic was getting about $80 a ton for its recyclables. Now, he said, the company is paying others to take the recyclables.
“We no longer have a buyer,” Cross said, noting that China stopped purchasing most recyclables from the U.S. about a year ago. “If nobody is buying it ... your commodity rate is in the dumps.”
Cross said that China’s disappearance from the market has hit U.S. communities hard.
“It’s not just a Bullhead City problem,” he said.
As a result, Republic and Cotter will be working on options to change the recycling program — or possibly eliminate it altogether.
“Arizona law does not mandate that we recycle,” Cotter said, though he added he prefers there be some type of recycling program.
Possibilities include the current system with a likely rate increase to pay for it; a subscription service where residents opting to remain in a recycling program pay a separate monthly fee; and elimination of recycling.
“We know recycling is important for the planet,” Cross said. “It’s important for the environment.”
“We don’t have to resolve all those challenges today,” Cotter said, explaining that Republic’s current franchise agreement is valid through 2021 but indicating that the city might be willing to renegotiate sooner rather than later to address the issue.
Council members agreed that residents need more education about recycling — about what is and isn’t recyclable and that just a few ounces of household trash can contaminate pounds of recyclables.
“This is a huge issue for our community,” Cotter said after being directed to continue working with Republic for potential solutions to bring before the council at a later date.