Refuse and recycling changes take effect March 1

Adam Curtis Public Affairs Press Releases

The City of Sierra Vista’s residential refuse rate will increase on March 1 and private haulers will soon offer curbside recycling service within the City, following final votes by the City Council on Thursday.

The rate increase of 15 percent equates to $2.58 per month for a 65 gallon trash bin or $2.95 per month for a 95 gallon trash bin. It was approved after several months of deliberation by the City Council, which conducted an in-depth review of the entire refuse enterprise fund. In December, the council approved fee changes to special services available upon request that also take effect March 1. The rate increase and recycling change were both open for 30-day public comment periods prior to Thursday’s vote.

The City’s sanitation service operates as an enterprise fund, which means its operational costs are covered by its revenues generated by user rates and fees. Pressures on the fund have included increasing tipping fees at the landfill in recent years, new state laws allowing private competition for commercial and multifamily residential customers, and the sudden decline in global demand for recyclable materials that began in January, 2018.

After ending curbside recycling pickup on July 1, 2019, and opening a recycling drop-off center, the City was approached by two private companies interested in offering a residential curbside recycling service in Sierra Vista. Since opening the drop-off facility, the City has collected an average of about 5 percent of what was collected in its curbside recycling program. Costs to transport the recyclable materials to a processing facility in Tucson have significantly exceeded what the City and its recycling vendor have been able to receive from the sale of recyclable materials.

The City will close its recycling drop-off facility effective March 1.Continuing to offer a free drop-off facility for recyclables would add greater pressure on the refuse fund, while private curbside haulers may also be able to gain greater participation due to the convenience of the service. Recyclable materials may still be dropped off at the adjacent Cochise County refuse transfer station for a fee and private haulers are expected to begin offering curbside service by March.

Several council members said on Thursday that this does not mean the City is giving up on recycling, and reaffirmed their commitment to continuing to explore any potential options in the future.

The global recycling market plummeted in January, 2018, due China’s decision to stop accepting many categories of recyclable materials and to start requiring extremely low contamination rates on what it does accept. Since then, the recycling market has shown little signs of recovery and communities throughout the United States have been grappling with how to adapt.

“While offering a free recycling drop-off center is not fiscally responsible or fair to all our rate payers under current conditions, allowing private curbside services offers our residents a convenient option if they are willing to pay the cost,” Sierra Vista City Manager Chuck Potucek says.

When the City began offering weekly recycling pickups in 2012, Cochise County took in the City’s recycling at no charge, because it could cover its costs by selling the recyclables. This enabled the City to divert recyclables from going to the landfill. The City was able to reduce its refuse rate by about $1 per month in 2014 thanks to this program, since it reduced the cost incurred in tipping fees to dump trash at the landfill. Changes to the global recycling market turned this equation on its head.

The City will continue to offer trash collection twice each week and the pickup schedule will not change. A twice per week refuse collection is required under state law.