Reimagine Phoenix

The Need: We needed to integrate new methods for increasing capture of recyclable commodities due to the changes in inbound material compositions and more stringent commodity specifications. In addition, our North Gateway Transfer Station (NGTS) Materials Recovery Facility (MRF) had aging and outdated infrastructure as this facility went operational in 2006. For example, at this facility in 2018, Polypropylene (PP) plastic was hand-sorted and Polyethylene terephthalate (PET) plastic was captured by a nine-year-old optical sorter using 20-year-old scanning technology. Moving forward, the facility was in dire need of an upgrade to be able to capture material more efficiently as well as meet stricter market specifications.

The Solution: Through a public private partnership and varied funding sources, NGTS was able to utilize $4.5 million to upgrade the facility’s equipment including two new anti-wrap disk screens, two new optical sorters, a drum feeder, expansion to the pre-sort line, critical infrastructure upgrades to the electrical and fire life safety systems, and a ballistic separator.

What makes it particularly smart or circular? Rather than decommission the older equipment being replaced within NGTS and the MRF, we repurposed it for PP capture elsewhere in the facility helping to extend the life of the products and service capabilities. The upgrades overall provided a substantial improvement of the capture of glass, paper, PET, PP, and old corrugated cardboard (OCC) including 50 percent improvement in MRF throughput (processing speed) and increased inbound processing capacity. Furthermore, upgrades to the NGTS MRF have allowed us to temporarily support our neighboring cities that no longer are able to provide recycling services without our assistance.

Results, Benefits, and Outcomes to Date: Benefits from the upgrade include a substantial improvement of the capture of glass, paper, PET, OCC and PP; the ability to achieve tighter material quality specifications; 50 percent improvement in MRF throughput (processing speed); increased inbound processing capacity; reduced residuals sent to landfill; the ability to temporarily process the city of Scottsdale’s recyclables since their MRF burned down in 2019; the ability to temporarily shoulder recyclables from 27th Avenue transfer station as this MRF goes through a complete replacement; and the ability to process more fiber products due to the increased demand of cardboard and paper during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Which of the Pact’s 4 Targets does your work help achieve? Target 3

How are you communicating your success? The city was able to communicate this successful story at events and conferences including the U.S. EPA America Recycles Summit and the Public Works Expo hosted by the American Public Works Association. In addition, the city has given multiple presentations to Council meetings, environmental commissions, educational tours, and internal department presentations.

What’s Next? Since the completion of upgrades as NGTS and the MRF, city of Phoenix Public Works Department has also applied for the Polypropylene Recycling Grant Program with The Recycling Partnership. If awarded, grant funds will be used to make additional recycling infrastructure improvements to increase access and capture of PP resin plastic.

Roadblocks & Lessons Learned: By advancing technology, systems can produce a better end product. With increased capacity, we can better serve the community at large. Even if funding is limited, there are ways to partner to supplement the capital cost of a project.

Core Team, Partners, & Participants: Closed Loop Partners’ Infrastructure Fund, Republic Services, city of Peoria, city of Phoenix

Time Frame: Approximately 18 months total. We knew a system upgrade was needed after facility assessment following China Sword impacts. At this time, the MRF processor communicated challenges with meeting market conditions which resulted in loss of revenue. These conversations, including project planning, started to occur in 2018 when enforcement of the strict half percent contamination rate was imposed.

Budget: $4.5 million USD total. Funding was provided by a no-interest loan from Closed Loop Partners’ Infrastructure Fund ($3M), money from the city of Peoria ($1M), and city of Phoenix funds.

Quote: “As many cities across the country struggled to meet changing recycling market conditions, the city of Phoenix was fortunate to find a solution through a public and private partnership that enabled us to meet new industry standards while also demonstrating how valuable collaboration is when developing solutions.” – Eduardo Rodriguez, Operations Manager, Public Works Solid Waste Diversion and Disposal Division, city of Phoenix

Company/Organization Information: Phoenix was incorporated as a city in 1881 and became the capital of Arizona in 1889. Phoenix adopted a council-manager system of government in 1913. Phoenix currently has 1.6 million residents. The Public Works Department, Solid Waste Utility has over 600 employees and services 400,000+ living units. The Reimagine Phoenix Initiative was approved by Phoenix City Council in 2015.

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