Phoenicians have been searching high and low for a new identity to give to their sprawling Bird on Fire, branded by Andrew Ross in 2011 as the “World’s Least Sustainable City.” Last year, the City of Phoenix, Arizona State University (ASU), and St. Luke’s Health Initiative decided it was time to Reinvent Phoenix through transit-oriented development, affordable housing, green infrastructure, and other sustainable strategies. This program’s innovative approach caught the eye of the nation and earned recognition from the Congress of New Urbanism, the Atlantic Cities, and the GRID by former contributor, James Gardner. This year, the City’s Public Works Department revealed another ambitious sustainability initiative, Reimagine Phoenix. The five-month-old program goes beyond “reduce, reuse, recycle” and reimagines trash as an economic engine powered by technologies that turns waste into fuel and electricity.
The new campaign is rooted in the City of Phoenix Public Works Department, which has been working since February 2013 to increase citywide waste diversion from 15% to 40% by 2020. City staff has worked in partnership with a number of experts, including Earth 911 and Sustainability Solutions Services (S3), a consultant group out of ASU’s Global Institute of Sustainability. The collaborative effort has explored multifamily waste, food waste, recyclables, waste-to-energy, and other topics in order to uncover solutions that would lead the city to reach its diversion goal, expand its renewable energy portfolio, and create new businesses.
Reimagine Phoenix focuses heavily on resident and business education, but also considers policy and operation solutions. Within the next several months, City staff and the City Council are considering implementing:
- Pay-As-You-Throw program;
- More efficient bulk trash collection schedule;
- Expanded education and outreach;
- Manual separation at transfer stations;
- Food waste policy;
- E-waste policy;
- Construction and demolition waste plan; and
- Updated city solid waste ordinance.
These changes are intended to make recycling more convenient and open the door for diverting additional waste streams, such as food waste. Longer term solutions include a mixed waste facility and new technologies that would turn waste into resources.
Although educational programs and new technologies are key pieces of the initiative, the closest thing researchers have found to a complete solution is regional planning and cooperation. The Phoenix Metropolitan Area has a population of over 4.3 million, which produces an estimated 9.5 tons of trash every day. Through strategic urban planning and regional infrastructure, this mass of resources could be directed to new plastic-to-oil plants, anaerobic digesters, and other businesses that transform trash into dollars.
Phoenix sees trash as an enormous, untapped market that could create jobs and rebrand the city as an icon of sustainability. Do you agree? Is there an opportunity to create a sustainable waste industry in the Phoenix metro area?
Credits: Image by Lynn Coppedge. Other image and data linked to sources.