Phoenix Public Works wants to build a remanufacturing mill to process difficult-to-recycle plastic products that can be repurposed into other plastic products.
The bid for the new facility came just six months after China raised its standards for the quality of plastic it accepts for processing, in an effort to clean up the country’s own environment. As a result, manufacturers are using more fresh fiber and resins and less recycled material, according to Resource Recycling.
Americans recycle nearly 68 million tons of solid waste each year, and plastic makes up more than three percent of that, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. About one third of all recycled material in the U.S. is shipped to China for processing and remanufacturing. Now that China is changing its policies, U.S. cities are looking for new ways to use resources and keep landfills from overflowing.
“Encouraging a mill or company to create a solution to process recycled plastics locally not only promotes a circular economy, but also ensures Phoenix residents will have a reliable market for all plastics put in the blue (recycling) bin,” said Rick Peters, deputy director of Phoenix Public Works Diversion Disposal.
City of Phoenix put out a plastics request for proposal (RFP) intended to create a local market demand for plastics number three through seven. An RFP is a document where an agency — in this case, the City of Phoenix — asks companies to submit proposals, usually through a bidding process, to complete a requested specialty service. Plastics three to seven include foam cups, takeout containers, plastic bags, stretchy plastic film, chip bags and candy wrappers.
“While we are in the early stages of evaluating the request for proposal responses, we expect the winning processor will also supplement what is already in our blue recycling containers with a separate program to collect,” Peters said.
Phoenix has a Resource Innovation Campus (RIC) at the 27th Avenue Transfer Station, which has plenty of room for a processing and production facility.
“Having a local mill, production facility or some type of solution for our plastics #3-7 is consistent with our Reimagine Phoenix initiative to achieve 40 percent diversion by 2020,” Peters said. Such a facility could be initially expected to divert about 2,000 tons of plastic waste annually, “but that number has the potential to be higher,” he said.
There are other plants that process these plastics in the United States, but bringing one to the RIC in Phoenix would be a first for Arizona. Phoenix Public Works hopes the facility could be a regional outlet for these plastics that could support the rest of Arizona and bordering states. It is too early to gauge the financial impact, but a production facility is expected to have a positive impact on the state economy, Peters said.
“We view the RFP as the important first step,” Peters said. “Our objective is to identify a company to locate in Phoenix that is the best overall fit for the city.”