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The challenges of garbage disposal and recycling

Posted at 5:32 PM, Feb 12, 2016
and last updated 2016-02-13 11:40:55-05
TUCSON (KGUN9-TV) - A tour of the Los Reales landfill is designed so Tucsonans have a better idea of what goes into getting your garbage out of your sight.
Tour buses take people to some of our area's most beautiful sights. But a garbage landfill is generally not on the list.
Tucson's environmental services department set up a tour of the Los Reales landfill to show people what goes into making their garbage disappear.
An average of three million pounds of garbage comes to Los Reales each day it’s open.  It's open six days a week.
KGUN 9 reporter Craig Smith asked tour member Ralph Wahl: "When you found out you had a chance to tour a landfill, you said, I'm in.  Why?”  He said, “It's just really interesting to me because I know we just got a lot of garbage and what are you going to do with it and what do we do with it?"
What Tucson does with garbage is more than dump it and forget it. Pipes and pumping stations make sure contaminated water doesn't travel underground and get into drinking water.
You're probably wondering about the element TV and the web just can't convey: the smell. It's really not that bad.
Decomposing garbage creates methane gas.  Some landfills vent and burn their methane so it can't collect and explode.  Tucson uses equipment to collect the methane and pipe it to a TEP power plant which burns it to make electricity.
Tucson's Environmental Services Chief Andrew Quigley says the tour makes the point when you toss your trash it doesn't go away by magic.
"And today we wanted to show them all the technology and hard work that goes into securing our environment and managing these resources properly."
The tour also showed one way trash can come back: through the recycling plant where about 80 percent of recycling can become the raw material for new products.
Tucson doesn't make you separate recyclables.  A combination of people, and machinery separate it for you.
Jean Wahl is a retired teacher.  She loves this sort of field trip.
"It was my massage therapist who told me about this and I don't know how she heard about it but she just said, 'this sounds like the sort of thing you and Ralph would like.' Yeah! Go to the especially the recycle plant and see the garbage heaps and walk on them."
The city wants people to understand how the landfill, and recycling, work.  A lot of things they think they can recycle, they can't.  About 20 percent still ends up in the landfill.  Tucson has a smart phone app to help you knows which items you can recycle.  It also helps you stay on top of pick-up schedules.
The recycled material that comes out of the facility is a commodity so it's sensitive to a commodities market. Right now oil is so cheap, companies that might be using this to create new plastic materials are using new oil instead."
Environmental Services Chief Andrew Quigley says instead of making money from recyclables, Tucson will have to pay about 200 thousand dollars.
KGUN 9 reporter Craig Smith asked: "Why is it still worth it to take that loss as opposed to suspending recycling? 
Quigley: “Two things: First under state law we'd have to start picking up trash twice a week which is not something we are set up to do.  The second thing is that the diversion of recyclables away from our landfills and the use of recyclable materials in the manufacture of products reduces the amount of greenhouse gases."
And the less garbage dumped at Los Reales landfill, the longer before it fills up and the better for the environment.
If you'd like to be on the next tour of the landfill and recycling plant call Tucson’s Department of Environmental Services at 520-791-3175 or email them.