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DIGGING DEEPER: Reuse Resistance

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TUCSON (KVOA) - A chore city employees handled has now become your responsibility and some people are not happy about it.  

Some of you asked, how does Tucson's glass reuse program benefit taxpayers if it relies on your time, cars and gas money?  After taking your concerns to the city, we have answers.  

In February, the city stopped picking up recycled glass. It is your job now.  

“I kind of have mixed feelings about it,” Christa Bak, a Tucson resident said. 

The city has placed 21 dropoff sites throughout Tucson. You are supposed to take glass to one. The city said it will collect glass to be repurposed.  

According to the city, transitioning from glass recycling processing to reuse is expected to lower greenhouse gas emissions by nearly 70%. 

But some of you asked, won’t extra drop offs cause unnecessary pollution?  

We did the math. According to the U.S. Census, there are more than 200,000 households in Tucson. So, we assumed there’s one car per house, and at least one person would drop off glass every two weeks.

We found it would result in at least 200,000 drivers on city streets.  

We took your concerns to Tucson’s Director of General Services.  

 “To be honest with you, we did not really consider those impacts initially because we assumed that folks were not going to take a special trip to drop off their glass,” Carlos De La Torre, director of the City of Tucson's General Services said. 

Even if they don’t, De La Torre said “our calculations seem that it probably is still going to make sense." 

The city estimated it picks up 5,330 tons of glass a year. That is equal to the weight of about 1,000 elephants.

De La Torre said the city looked at the benefits of its glass recycling program. It found that glass recycling helped it avoid putting out an estimated extra 1,231 metric tons of CO2 a year. 

Then it estimated potential benefits of glass reuse. 

De La Torre said the city estimated that if every two weeks, 142,000 people dropped off glass at a site two miles away, then it should avoid an estimated 2,809 metric tons of CO2 a year.

But progress is only is made if people drop glass off on their way to somewhere they would usually go. 

“There’s probably a percentage of people who will say, nope. I don’t want to go out of my way to do this,” Bak said. 

De La Torre said if everyone were to make a special trip to drop off glass, the environment will be negatively impacted. There would be an additional 145 metric tons of CO2 produced each year.

Benefits or not, some of you wondered why taxpayers are doing the city's service. We asked. 

“We’re trying to provide the best services that we can,” De La Torre said. “We’re trying to react to the recycling market.”  

“Processing costs for recycling have increased tremendously,” Cristina Polsgrove of Tucson Environmental & General Services said. 

The city spent more than half-a-million dollars on glass recycling last year.  

De La Torre said the new program should cut costs in half over the next five years. If it kept the old program, the city would need to charge taxpayers about $4 more a month to keep up with recycling costs.   

Plan to keep putting glass in recycle bins? It’ll cost you. 

After a few warnings, De La Torre said, “We’re just going to end up removing your barrel."

We asked, how will people without cars participate? 

De La Torre said there’s no plan yet but the city is working on a solution.

You can learn more about the reuse program here

Alexis Berdine

Alexis Berdine is an Investigative Multi-Media Journalist at KVOA.

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