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Hard-to-recycle plastics program changing July 1

Drop-off sites remain the same but plastic to be contained in orange bags as city partners with Hefty Renew
Posted at 7:49 PM, Jun 05, 2024

TUCSON, Ariz. (KGUN) — The city of Tucson's innovative program to manage hard-to-recycle plastics is evolving this summer to address overwhelming participation and enhance sustainability efforts.

On July 1, Tucson residents are asked to bag their hard-to-recycle plastics in orange Hefty Renew trash bags.

The bags can be dropped at the same five recycle centers found at the offices of wards 2, 4, 5 and 6, along with Fire Station 15, located at 2002 S Mission Rd.

Originally launched in 2023, the program aims to reduce landfill waste by converting difficult-to-recycle plastics into useful materials.

These plastics are utilized by ByFusion, a California company that turns plastic into bricks used for construction projects such as park benches and bus stops.

However, the city now faces challenges due to its popularity.

“We’re processing right now in the upwards of about 20 tons a month," said Carlos DeLaTorre, Director of Environmental and General Services for the City of Tucson. "The situation is that there’s only specific capacity that our current partner, ByFusion, can process—about ten to fifteen tons per month.”

Some of this excess plastic that cannot be processed ends up at the Los Reales landfill.

Casandra Beaty, Administrative Assistant at the City of Tucson, explained the root of the problem: “People just throw it in there thinking ‘someone will sort it out and it’ll get taken care of.’”

With the landfill projected to have about 60 years of capacity left, finding a sustainable solution became imperative.

“We have a big pile of plastic that we need to find a good use for," DeLaTerra said. "And that’s really where this Hefty Renew partnership came aboard.”

He says that the Hefty program will still supply ByFusion with the plastics processed at their California facility. Hefty takes the leftover plastics and sells them in the used plastics market for a variety of uses, depending on need.

“That rolloff is essentially sent to a processing facility, which is Friedman’s recycling here in Tucson," DeLaTerra said. "They will bale the material and ship the material to Hefty Renew.”

The Los Reales Sustainability Campus on the Southside is also the future site of the ByFusion plant, which is expected to open next year.

This facility will convert about 200 tons of hard-to-recycle plastics per month, enough to handle the current amount of plastics being recycled through the program.

In light of these changes, some residents, like Diana Lett of Ward 6, expressed concerns about the environmental impact.

“People who are going through all the trouble of participating in this hard-to-recycle plastics program really don’t want to be creating an environmental problem in some other city,” Lett stated.

Lett is specifically worried that the plastic being sent to Hefty will be used for pyrolization, a process that converts non-recyclable waste materials into electricity and heat.

She hopes to get answers at a town hall meeting held at the Ward 6 office on June 11 that will focus on the new Hefty Renew program.

DeLaTorre assured residents that the Hefty partnership is temporary.

“Within a year, ByFusion will have a facility set up at the Los Reales Sustainability Campus," he said. "So it’s really just a shortgap measure at this point in time.”

Looking ahead, the city plans to integrate the orange Hefty Renew bags into the regular blue recycling bins to streamline the process, though this involves complex logistics that are still being worked out.

For now, residents can purchase the orange bags at local Frys and Walmart stores, or order them online from Target.

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Joel Foster is a multimedia journalist at KGUN 9 who previously worked as an English teacher in both Boston and the Tucson area. Joel has experience working with web, print and video in the tech, finance, nonprofit and the public sectors. In his off-time, you might catch Joel taking part in Tucson's local comedy scene. Share your story ideas with Joel at joel.foster@kgun9.com, or by connecting on Facebook, Instagram or X.