Phoenix has plans to upgrade equipment at one of its recycling facilities to adapt to market changes, and hopefully get more recyclables back out of the landfill. “Most of the United States and Europe over the last 30 years have developed a recycling system based on the fact that China has been the country that has bought most of these recyclables,” said Joe Giudice, assistant Public Works director for Phoenix. “The market shifted when they changed policy, so we are all in a position where we are responding to the new market signals.”

After securing funding from investments and loans through the city and other partners, Phoenix is set to spend $4.5 million to upgrade the North Gateway Transfer Station. Giudice said the objective is to ensure the facility can meet the tougher recycling market requirements.

In 2017, China announced the “National Sword” policy as part of an aggressive anti-pollution movement. The country started to enforce the policy in January 2018. Recycling facilities facing the pressures of the tighter standards were forced to adapt by adding staff and aggressively adjusting the screening processes to produce sellable product. The result in Phoenix and many other cities was a slower process, more recyclables diverted into landfills and, in turn, less revenue from selling recyclables.

At Phoenix’s North Gateway Transfer Station, the standard change meant the loss of about $800 of revenue per hour and $1.8 million over the course of the year, said Rick Peters, deputy director of the Phoenix Public Works Department’s solid waste diversion and disposal division.

“The screens we are using now were designed with technology from 15 years ago — they simply weren’t designed to meet the purification standards of the markets today,” Peters said. “As a result, we are losing a little bit of everything.”

In 2018, the facility produced an average of 1,000 fewer tons of recyclable newspaper per month than it had in 2017 — the difference of the weight of 25 18-wheelers every month.

Peters said the improvements planned for the facility will restore the facility’s efficiency, production rates and revenue back to what it was before China’s policy change. The updates include the replacement of three aging newspaper screens with two state-of-the-art screens, the addition of multiple plastic sorters, expansion of a pre-sortation area and the addition of a system to increase control of the flow of recyclables into the sortation stream.

“The new screens are going to be so efficient that we can replace three old ones with two new ones and they will do the same job, but better,” Peters said. “With these improvements, we are going to be able to dramatically pick up both quality and speed.”

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