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Guest opinion

Cunningham: Junk forces city to dump some recycling centers

Here's a fun fact for you: Tucson had its first public recycling sites back in 1942. Bins were put at various locations around the city to collect used rubber and metal for the war effort.

In 1990, the city started its current era of neighborhood recycling centers. We have two in Ward 2, one at Udall Park and the other near Booth-Fickett Magnet School. There will be a big change coming for the Udall site.

Neighborhood recycling was started more than 25 years ago. The city's early experiments with curbside recycling in some areas ended in 1980 when there was a change to side-loading trucks. Still, we wanted to encourage citizens to recycle. In 1990, Tucson Clean and Beautiful and the City of Tucson joined up to create what were called at that time "outreach sites." These evolved into the neighborhood recycling centers we have now.

Some things have changed in the meantime. The city now has a well-utilized curbside recycling program that is available to every household and business served by the city of Tucson. This has decreased the need to offer facilities like the one at Udall Park.

It's not just that less recyclable stuff is being left at the centers, it's also that some of our more irresponsible neighbors have been using these as dump sites. There is a similar center at Jacobs Park. Environmental Services did an audit there of what was dropped off at the center. They found approximately 1,000 pounds of recyclables. That's good, but there was also 650 pounds of "contaminated" materials. Those would be recyclables but mixed with other matter that makes them unusable as recyclables. More disturbingly, 4,000 pounds of regular trash were left. That's right: nearly five times as much non-recyclable items were left than recyclable ones.

That was at Jacobs; Udall has much the same problem with trash being left at the recycling center.

It costs the city nearly $100,000 in staff time to keep these areas clean in addition to $60,000 paid to a contractor to pick up the trash, which includes mattresses, yard waste and other items that were left mostly because someone wasn't responsible enough to haul it off themselves.

And as anyone that has ever listened to "Alice's Restaurant" knows, it can be tough to prove who has been doing the dumping.

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It's not just about costs. My office recently got a report that trash left at the recycling center ended up on a Little League ball field. This didn't make for an enjoyable afternoon for the kids and coaches.

Our solution is to close the Udall recycling center, which will happen July 1. Don't worry, the one at Booth-Fickett will remain open. Booth-Fickett does not have the wildcat dumping issue that we have at Udall, mostly because its location means people can keep an eye on it. Other sites around the city will close for similar reasons, although there's not a final list yet. Fewer centers will mean more traffic at the remaining centers and an easier task keeping an eye on them.

I hate to see such a well-established amenity leave Ward 2, but given how successful curb-side recycling has been, our recycling efforts remove 17 percent of waste that would otherwise be going into our landfills. It's been a model for other communities, and I hope we can continue to expand it.

Paul Cunningham represents Ward 2 on the Tucson City Council.

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