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Arizona communities cut back on, eliminate recycling programs

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A number of municipalities across Arizona are either cutting back their recycling programs or eliminating them altogether because they are no longer cost effective.

The cities of Mesa and Tucson announced significant cutbacks while Sierra Vista, Surprise and Globe are among communities that have suspended their programs altogether.

Contaminated recycling and China’s decision last year to significantly reduce the amount of recycled materials imported from the U.S. are the main reasons cited.

“Due to contamination, increasing recycling processing fees and decreasing commodity values, the City of Mesa has found it necessary to modify the Blue Barrel Recycling Program,” a notice on the city’s website informs residents. “The list of accepted items has been reduced and simplified.”

About 25 percent of items placed in recycling bins nationally are not recyclable or accepted, the city says. That drives up costs.

This summer, the city of Kingman consolidated its seven recycling dropoff locations into one.

“Constant issues with contamination and the cost of recycling has caused the City of Kingman to make these changes to the Kingman EZ Recycling Drop Program,” the city announced on its website.

For years, China has purchased recycling material that was collected in the U.S. Chinese workers would clean the recycling and prepare it for re-use. Dirty recyclables are contaminated by non-recyclable material, food stuffs, and other items. The Chinese labor market paid workers a low wage to clean the dirty material. As the Chinese economy shifted, many were no longer willing to perform this task and so China put tighter restrictions on what percentage of dirty recycling it would accept.

China is expected to stop accepting U.S. recyclables next year.